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Cigdem Cimrin turned her back on a lucrative career as a lawyer in order to stand up for people more vulnerable than herself. That takes a lot of courage and patience, particularly as a young woman in Turkey.
Cimrin holds a doctorate and previously worked as a lawyer for businesses in Turkey. After roughly a decade, it became clear to her that she should use her strengths and expertise to have a social impact. She subsequently founded Minerva – the first aid organisation in Turkey to focus on human rights in a corporate context – together with Pinar Kara, who is also a formerly corporate lawyer that completed her PhD studies on business and human rights.
Cimrin explains: ‘I moved from the dark side into the light, so to speak, and began working as a consultant for organisations such as Save the Children, GIZ and Welthungerhilfe.’ When working on her doctoral thesis, she dealt in detail with the issue of corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Specifically, she focused on human rights due diligence and sustainability. This courageous Turkish woman was willing to take on a challenging task, both in theoretical and practical terms.
A strong team
Around two years ago, Cimrin founded Minerva together with Pinar Kara in order to have a direct local impact to address business-related human rights abuses and to advance responsible business conduct in global supply chains extending to Turkey. ‘We can proudly say that we are the first NGO in Turkey with a central focus on business and human rights issues ranging from refugee rights to gender equality & diversity. As women, we know what it feels like to be oppressed – that gives us even more motivation to advocate for disadvantaged individuals.’
Cigdem Cimrin visiting a campsite of seasonal agricultural migrant workers interviewing women on their living conditions.
Wide-ranging legislative changes
After all, the bitter reality remains that many companies do not verify whether or how human rights are respected in their direct and indirect supply chain. In order to identify and address deficiencies, since the start of 2023, companies in the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act (LkSG) are being held accountable. Under LkSG, all companies falling under certain criteria are obligated to assess their supply chains, including their suppliers, for human rights violations and environmental risks, and to prevent and remedy any identified risks and violations. This also applies to commercial ties in non-EU countries such as Turkey. Wars and environmental disasters have changed the labour market there. Both local people and refugees are exposed to deteriorating conditions. There is an urgent need to act.
In concrete terms, Minerva wishes to act as an intermediary between predominantly European companies and Turkish partners. Structural challenges are particularly acute on the ground: ‘Unfortunately, civil society in Turkey is not nearly as well developed as it ought to be. Most organisations have to get by with limited funding,’ Cimrin says. Minerva addresses this exact issue: ‘We know that we are not experts in all fields. But we can function as mediators and draw on the expertise of other civil society organisations with the aim of implementing effective projects to address supply chain related human rights and environmental risks.’
Learning to fish
Cimrin is guarded with regard to the commitment of European companies: ‘Unfortunately, there is a lot of “social greenwashing.”’ In the 70s, several companies started to launch volunteer projects. These mostly consisted of unpaid work that only helped the local people in the short term, if at all.’ Metaphorically speaking, she believes that there is no point in just giving people fish. They have to learn to catch their own. This is an important task for Minerva, as a non-profit organisation wants to create lasting change in the region. The LkSG can help here by acting as ‘leverage’.
Çiğdem Çımrın paying a visit to a school project for children, whose parents working in hazelnut harvest.
naturamus, a raw materials supplier and WALA subsidiary, advocates for long-term cooperation in all its partnerships with farmers, including those in Turkey – the country where valuable rose oil is produced for WALA. WALA has been working with the Aydin family’s rose farm since 2014. Back then, naturamus helped this family company transition from organic cultivation to Demeter-certified farming methods. In order to permanently improve working conditions for local seasonal workers, the WALA subsidiary took action and sought dialogue with Minerva from 2021 to 2022. ‘I would like to offer my sincere thanks for the trust placed in us. We are still a very young organisation, and the opportunity to take part in such a partnership is not a foregone conclusion for us,’ Cimrin adds.
TEXT: Rosa Thomas