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Hope ahead through refugee programme in Turkey

H&M Group constantly seeks opportunities to support inclusion of people across its global value chain. Together with its partners and suppliers, H&M Turkey helped more than 400 refugees to earn a living during 2020, while their employers discovered the benefits of diversity.

Bishir Khabbas, Yazan Al Arbash and Junaid Frej are working in one of H&M’s supplier factories in Turkey.

Since 2011 Turkey has become home to four million Syrians and other refugees, many who are struggling to find employment and become a part of Turkish society. At the same time, there are textile factories in Turkey facing a shortage of workers.

H&M Turkey spotted an opportunity for matchmaking in line with H&M Group’s efforts to promote inclusion and diversity. Finding jobs for the refugees would not only open the door to a new life for them, it would also lead to other positive effects.

“We know that diversity itself brings positive impacts for companies and more importantly we see a critical challenge in Turkey connected with the millions of refugees living here who need jobs”, says Oznur Ozcelik, Sustainability Social Program Responsible, H&M Turkey. “As a big buyer, we believe we have a responsibility in the communities where we have a presence”.

As a big buyer, we believe we have a responsibility in the communities where we have a presence.

Oznur Ozelik, Sustainability Social Program Responsible, H&M Turkey.

Promoting the benefits of diversity

H&M Group aims to enable ethical recruitment opportunities for 2,000 refugees within its suppliers’ operations by 2025. During 2020, more than 400 refugees were employed through the efforts of the foreign workers programme in Turkey alone. They have work permits, are socially insured, work in a safe work environment and they are paid according to Turkish law.

Through the programme, H&M Turkey works with local stakeholders, including the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, International Labour Organization (ILO), United Work and Mudem, to integrate refugees into the labour market. A work mentorship programme helps refugees cope with the challenges that come with a new job, culture and language.

Bishir Khabbas, Sewing Operator, is one of the refugees who has gotten employment.

H&M Turkey works very closely with its suppliers and part of Oznur Ozcelik’s job is to promote the benefits of diversity and refugee recruitment and encourage suppliers to get on board with the programme. Suppliers are often concerned that hiring refugees will create extra work and some are unaware that hiring refugees is legally possible.

The programme connects suppliers with the relevant stakeholders who can help with each step in the process such as hiring laws, funding, work permits, training and other details. Most importantly, the suppliers are presented with candidates for each job.

Throughout her more than 12-year long career at H&M Group, Oznur Ozcelik has been to a lot of factories and interviewed plenty of workers, including refugees, while conducting sustainability audits. “What motivates me most is to be able to have even the slightest positive impact on peoples’ lives”, she says. 

Suppliers say that our work has helped them improve and change their vision”, says Oznur OzcelikThey also see that the refugees they hire are motivated and work well and this shows in supplier productivity”.

A rewarded initiative - Work for women

H&M Turkey also focuses on the recruitment of refugee women as they tend to be a more vulnerable group due to a general lack of work experience and cultural reasons. A project with H&M Group supplier Ekpen Tekstil and ILO was initiated in 2020 to promote decent work opportunities for refugee women from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Ekpen Tekstil created a training programme for 10 women. At the end of the period, some of the women were recruited for the factory production line”, says Oznur Ozcelik, Sustainability Social Program Responsible in Turkey. In 2020, Ekpen Tekstil received an award from Sustainable Business Awards Turkey in the Diversity and Inclusion category for their work with the programme.

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