The Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013 has been labelled “a turning point” in the global garment industry. Members of the public, the media and industry professionals are now looking to support the implementation of improved ethical standards and supply chain transparency within the global apparel industry. However, as the demand for fast fashion increases, fierce competition and tight deadlines are still prevalent in the garment industry, and garment production in developing countries is increasing exponentially.
Every country involved in the global garment industry can find lessons to learn from the Rana Plaza tragedy. We’ve turned the spotlight on Turkey to study how one country is developing its garment industry, and assess the importance of supply chain transparency in its future.
Turkey as export hub
In the past decade Turkey has seen its garment industry boom, becoming the fourth largest supplier of clothing in the world, a leading source for the European apparel market and a perfectly located hub to feed the Middle Eastern market. The textile and garment industry in Turkey accounts for around $30 billion, representing 8% of the country’s GDP, and the Turkish Clothing Manufacturers Association hopes to build the export market to a total value of $100 billion by 2023.
Turkey’s garment industry is therefore a key driver of the country’s future economic success, and steps are being taken to protect and nurture this blossoming business.
Struggling country, strengthening garment industry
An article in the New York Times argues that the decline of the Turkish lira’s exchange rate is supporting growth in the country’s garment industry, fuelling a rise in exports as Turkish products become less expensive for major European retailers. As a result, Turkish exports rose by 6.2% in February 2014 compared to 2013 levels, and exports of knitted goods alone saw an 8.6% rise. The weaker lira makes Turkey a stronger contender to rival garment production hubs in Asia, providing a silver lining to the country’s current economic struggles.
Abdulkadir Konukoglu, Chairman of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) and Textile Industry Council, recently lauded the textile sector as the most important industry in the country’s economy today, having created around 125,000 new jobs within the last few years.
Factors to consider
Mr Konukoglu cited Turkey as a nation “advanced in fashion” – so how can Turkish apparel manufacturers learn from and improve upon the Bangladesh garment industry?
Factory infrastructure is likely to be far stronger in Turkey than in Bangladesh. Compliance with building regulations is more strictly enforced in Turkey, in contrast to Bangladesh, where over 90% of buildings fail to meet building codes.
However, working conditions do represent a problem for textile and apparel manufacturers in Turkey, especially in light of the May Day protests where citizens denounced low wages and called for political reform. Poor working conditions have been well-documented in the Bangladesh garment industry, highlighted by the extensive media coverage that has accompanied the one year anniversary of Rana Plaza. Poor working conditions can be blamed for low productivity, absenteeism and high staff turnover, as well as ethical violations that threaten supply chain transparency. Steps must be taken to protect and support garment workers in Turkey to prevent them becoming a major supply chain risk in a burgeoning industry.
Sourcing also represents a significant challenge for Turkey’s garment industry, as low-cost offshore locations such as Ethiopia are already beginning to be utilised. Istanbul-based Ayka Textile is making multi-million dollar investments into Ethiopian production units, and European giants Tesco and H&M are currently sponsoring training courses for Ethiopian garment and textile workers, reflecting the country’s growing importance as a sourcing base. If Turkey’s garment manufacturers wish to attract lucrative business with major European retailers, they will need to impose strict supply chain transparency across all global sourcing activities, including in impoverished African nations where such standards may be far more difficult to implement.
The Bangladesh garment industry has been burdened with a heavy legacy following the Rana Plaza collapse. As the global garment industry continues to evolve, it is the responsibility of other countries to learn from these mistakes and enforce supply chain transparency.
Considering the significant role that outsourcing may play in the future of Turkey’s garment industry, it is essential that complete supply chains are mapped out and closely monitored. Production tracking technologies such as Segura can help. Our web-based software opens up a competitive new market of suppliers and subcontractors, enforces supply chain transparency and helps to deliver high quality products, while always adhering to ethical sourcing guidelines.
Originally published 09/05/2014