fbpx
Press Release: Tesco to be grilled on rights abuses in supply chain at AGM mired in scandal

Press Release: Tesco to be grilled on rights abuses in supply chain at AGM mired in scandal

For immediate release: 16 June 2023

Hooks: Tesco Chair steps down at AGM following alleged inappropriate conduct towards female staff; Tesco facing forced labour lawsuit from 130 Burmese garment workers in Thailand factory supplying F&F jeans.

 

Representatives from the human rights campaign group Labour Behind the Label will today raise concerns that Tesco’s use of social auditing is putting the workers who make their clothes at risk of abuse.

Tesco and social audit firm Intertek are facing a lawsuit brought by 130 Burmese workers who made F&F jeans for Tesco in Thailand [1]. VK Garment workers say they were trapped in forced labour conditions, working 99-hour weeks for illegally low pay, while auditors failed to report abuses workers flagged. Workers are suing Tesco and Intertek for negligence and unjust enrichment in a case bought by the law firm Leigh Day.

At its Annual General Meeting today Labour Behind the Label will ask the Tesco board why they continue to rely on auditing practices which fail to protect workers in their supplier factories, and whether they will be cutting ties with Intertek after its ineffectual audits opened the company up to international legal action.

The scandal-ridden AGM will also see Tesco chair John Allan stand down following accusations of inappropriate behaviour towards female staff. [2] Approximately 80% of garment workers around the world who make clothes for brands like Tesco are women.

Campaigners are questioning how Tesco as a company is protecting women from rights violations, both within their own operations and in global supply chains.

Anna Bryher, Policy Lead for Labour Behind the Label, said:

“Women in garment factories around the world are routinely subject to exploitation and rights abuse. Tesco profited from the VK Garment workers’ exploitation while Intertek stood by and watched, failing to report the abuse they witnessed including threats, fraud, excessive hours and more. Tesco and Intertex must pay VK workers and settle the legal case being brought against them. It’s the least they can do.”

“Social auditing is a multi-million pound industry that provides a fig leaf for abuse in garment factories worldwide [3]. Fashion brands pay social audit firms to provide plausible deniability, while everyone in the industry knows rights abuse is endemic. Social auditing not only fails to identify human rights violations, but also actively undermines human rights protection. The Rana Plaza building which collapsed in Dhaka housed factories where social audits had taken place just months before the disaster, giving green lights to brands where there should have been warnings.”

“Tesco as a company has the opportunity through this case to cut ties with big audit firms like Intertek, and adopt a more transparent, hands on way of monitoring labour rights in factories, that could see active participation in rights protection.”

The full text of the question being put to the Tesco board is available below [4].

ENDS

Notes for editors

  • Labour Behind the Label is a campaign that works to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry.
  • The Tesco Annual General Meeting will be held in the Heart building of Tesco’s Welwyn Garden City campus on Friday, 15 June at 11.30am.

For media enquiries please contact:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/dec/18/workers-in-thailand-who-made-ff-jeans-for-tesco-trapped-in-effective-forced-labour

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/may/19/tesco-chair-john-allan-steps-down

[3] https://cleanclothes.org/file-repository/figleaf-for-fashion.pdf/view

[4] Question text:

Labour Behind the Label Question concerning Tesco’s approach to social auditing in its garment supplier factories 

In December The Guardian reported that Burmese workers who produced F&F jeans for Tesco in Thailand were trapped in forced labour conditions, working 99-hour weeks for illegally low pay. A lawsuit has been launched by Leigh Day solicitors on behalf of the 130 VK Garment workers, seeking damages from both Tesco, and social auditors Intertek, for alleged negligence and unjust enrichment. Intertek’s role in this case is that its audits failed to identify systematic wage violations, forced labour concerns and fraud, year on year, despite workers saying they flagged issues with auditors. While I won’t ask the board to comment on the lawsuit itself, my question concerns Tesco’s ongoing approach to factory monitoring.

Social auditing has been shown not only to fail to identify human rights violations and function as an expensive fig-leaf, but also to actively undermine human rights protection. Indeed, the Rana Plaza building which collapsed in Dhaka had factories with clear social audits, just months before the disaster, giving green lights to brands where there should have been warnings. Therefore, I’d like to ask the following:

  1. Can the board say whether Tesco is concerned about relying on social auditing as a structure in general to ensure human rights are upheld in its supplier factories given the failures of the system to provide real visibility of labour rights and safety concerns?
  2. Can the board comment on whether Tesco is reconsidering its relationship with the firm Intertek specifically after their social auditing services failed to provide visibility of labour rights violations at VK Garments and opened Tesco up to an international lawsuit?
Queer Labour Behind the Label zine online launch

Queer Labour Behind the Label zine online launch

Today we mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia (IADHOBIT) with the online launch of our zine – Queer Labour Behind the Label: a collection of stories from LGBTQI+ garment workers in Cambodia and Indonesia.

In recent years, fashion brands have tapped into the “pink pound”, releasing Pride collections and capitalising on LGBTQI+ struggles to sell fast-fashion. Meanwhile, garment workers in their supply chains – including queer workers – continue to face poverty wages, union busting, discrimination and other rights violations. Visibilising the stories of queer workers resisting intersecting labour rights violations and queerphobic treatment in their workplaces can help stop brands getting away with this pink-washing.

Queer Labour Behind the Label is a zine that brings together queer garment workers’ stories of everyday struggle, resistance and joy. We worked with Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) in Cambodia and Perempuan Mahardhika in Indonesia to gather the testimonies and images shared by workers that feature in this zine, which forms part of a proud queer history of DIY self-publishing. Throughout the zine we have used the local terms, language and phrases that workers themselves use to describe their identities. 

On IDAHOBIT 2023, and every day, Labour Behind the Label stands with queer workers around the world in our ongoing struggle for a world free from all forms of Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia. The struggle for queer liberation is inseparable from the struggle for workers’ power and through collective action we will win! 

If you love the online version of the Queer Labour Behind the Label Zine and would like a hard copy, you can sign up here throughout May and June 2023 and we will post copies to UK addresses. Keep an eye out for copies of the zine in independent bookshops and community spaces in London, Bristol and more! 

International Workers Memorial Day: Remember the dead, fight for the living!

International Workers Memorial Day: Remember the dead, fight for the living!

International Workers Memorial Day this year comes at the end of a week that started with the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza mass industrial homicide in Bangladesh, in which a preventable factory collapse killed at least 1138 garment workers, mainly young women, and left thousands injured or bereaved.

We call Rana Plaza a mass industrial homicide, taking the lead from trade unionists in Bangladesh, because the bosses, the factory owner and the fashion brands sourcing from Rana Plaza could have prevented it – but they chose not to. We say mass industrial homicide because prior to Rana Plaza there had already been plenty of “wake-up calls” for the global fashion industry, including the Tazreen Fashions fire in 2012, which killed 112 workers.

We say mass industrial homicide because when cracks appeared in the Rana Plaza building everyone knew it was unsafe, but despite workers’ protests factory bosses under pressure from global brands ordered workers to enter by threatening to dock a month’s wages. We say mass industrial homicide because the fashion industry extracts profit by driving a global race-to-the-bottom in working conditions, rewarding suppliers that pay poverty wages and suppress trade union organising. We say mass industrial homicide because on International Workers Memorial Day 2023, ten years on from Rana Plaza, global fashion brands are still profiting with impunity from working conditions that kill garment workers.

We know that fashion brands will concede nothing without a demand. This week, alongside Rana Plaza Solidarity Collective, we organised the actions and events described below, adding our voices to the hundreds of thousands of workers around the world demanding: “Rana Plaza, Never Again!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Sunday 23 April we took to the streets of central London to call out the high street fashion brands with blood on their hands. We denounced Primark, United Colours of Benetton and Zara: brands that sourced from Rana Plaza, pocketing profits from the miserable working conditions that led to the deadly disaster, yet dragged their feet on paying into the compensation fund for victims.

We left commemorative plaques at Primark and Zara and laid wreaths outside Benetton. We demanded Urban Outfitters and Levi’s stop risking workers lives and sign the International Accord, the only mechanism shown to improve factory safety through enforceability, independent oversight and trade union power. We called on H&M to ensure garment workers in their supply chain are paid a living wage, and heard about regulation needed to change the balance for garment workers.

We ended our Cost of Fashion walking tour by honouring, in grief and in rage, the memory of the 1138 people killed at Rana Plaza, reading the names and ages of every worker whose life was stolen on 24 April 2013 at the doorstep of Primark.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Monday 24 April, we held Rana Plaza anniversary events in East London and in Leicester. In East London we joined a memorial at Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel in the pouring rain, where our friends at Rainbow Collective had installed a beautiful memorial of 1138 clay hearts, one for each life lost, made with the help of community groups from across the East End, hanging in front of a banner of the 1138 names. We heard about the devastating tragedy and Rana Plaza survivors’ ongoing struggle for justice from Mayisha Begum, Labour Behind the Label, Nijjor Manush, Rainbow Collective, No Sweat, and Apsana Begum MP who also laid a wreath.

We then went to a packed Toynbee Hall, where Andrew O’Neill spoke with Mayisha Begum and Afzal Rahman about Rana Plaza and workers resistance in Bangladesh and Rainbow Collective screened their film ‘Rana Plaza 10 Years On’. In Leicester, trade unions, community groups, academics and a local MP gathered for an evening educational event, film screening and dinner. We watched the Rainbow Collective film and heard talks from local trade unionists about the struggle that UK workers face and how there are many similarities in terms of brand power and risks for workers. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Wednesday 26, we held a Parliamentary event with the APPG for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion and Fashion Roundtable in Portcullis House, hosted by John McNally MP. We exhibited powerful photographs taken by Rainbow Collective and by Bangladeshi photographer and activist Taslima Akhter, showing the Rana Plaza collapse and workers and their families’ organised resistance in the decade since then. We screened Rainbow Collective’s film, through which Rana Plaza survivors addressed attendees about their ongoing pain and struggle for justice. 

We then heard from MPs and campaigners. Kerry McCarthy MP emphasised the need for corporate accountability throughout supply chains as opposed to consumer choice. Liz Twist MP spoke in support of a Fashion Watchdog – “a low cost intervention with the potential to deliver much better for workers” – explaining that workers rights abuses are often driven by poor relationship between retailers and suppliers in the garment industry. Rushanara Ali MP spoke about the work she had been involved in to advance workers’ rights in Bangladesh, in her capacity as Chair of the APPG on Bangladesh and as Trade Envoy, and underlined the need to keep up the pressure  at a domestic and international level, saying: “companies think they can get away with treating people in developing economies as though they don’t have value and that has to stop.”

Claudia Webbe MP spoke about the open secret of miserable conditions faced by garment workers in her constituency in Leicester – “we are seeing prison houses for workers, people whose lives are submitted to a ‘just-in-time’ production” – and denounced the government for for failing to tackle the situation. Rupa Huq MP connected the environmentally harmful fashion industry to the effects of climate change, particularly for Bangladesh. Mark Dearn from Corporate Justice Coalition called on MPs to pledge to support a new law on Business, Human Rights and the Environment to ensure corporate accountability for abuses in global supply chains and Hilary Marsh from Transform Trade encouraged MPs to support a Fashion Watchdog to regulate the garment industry.

Ten MPs signed the Rana Plaza Book of Commitment to honour the 1138 people who lost their lives in the Rana Plaza disaster and show their commitment to supporting new rules to ensure safety and human rights in fashion supply chains: John McNally MP, Catherine West MP, Liz Twist MP, Rushanara Ali MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Claudia Webbe MP, Rupa Huq MP, Carol Monaghan MP, Douglas Chapman MP and Ronnie Cowan MP. MPs also left with a Rana Plaza 10th Anniversary Policy Briefing setting out actions they can take to ensure an industrial homicide like Rana Plaza can never happen again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This International Workers Memorial Day we remember the lives of the 1138 workers killed at Rana Plaza a decade ago on 24 April 2013, and we commit to continuing the struggle, shoulder to shoulder with garment workers and trade unions around the world, for factory safety and workers power in the global garment industry.

The FIFA World Cup has been built on a decade of human rights violations: whichever way you look, it’s workers from the global South who are exploited

The FIFA World Cup has been built on a decade of human rights violations: whichever way you look, it’s workers from the global South who are exploited

WORKERS FROM THE global south are PAYING THE PRICE FOR FIFA WOrlD CUP 

Whilst the world’s attention is, rightly so, on the migrant workers who have paid the ultimate price for this event, FIFA’s shameful web of exploitation pre-dates Qatar’s involvement, and reaches far beyond the country’s borders.  Major sponsors who publicly condemned Qatar’s record on human rights, have looked the other way for decades at FIFA’s reliance on exploitative labour. This begs the question, is it easier for western companies to hold Qatar to account for human rights violations, than to look at their own complicity in decades of labour exploitation?

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar is certainly confronting. When Qatar won the right to host the World Cup 2022 back in 2010, a gargantuan project began to build the infrastructure needed to host such an event, including hotels, transport, and solar-powered air-cooling stadiums. Qatari companies sponsored thousands of migrant workers from countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, with the promise of well-paid work, which would enable them to support their families back home.

Workers soon realised they were trapped, needing their sponsors permission to change jobs or leave the country. They endured long gruelling hours of hard labour in extreme heat of up to 50 degrees Celsius. Conditions of modern slavery prevailed as workers lived in squalid conditions, had wages withheld, and passports confiscated.

Just before the World Cup kicked off, many workers were sent back to their home countries before their contracts ended, without being paid their full salaries or allowances. For workers who paid exorbitant fees of up to $4,300 to recruiters, this meant going back empty-handed, or indebted. Not all workers will return home though, in 2021 the Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers from five countries died during the decade since Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.

Major sponsors, media and fans who were quick to condemn the conditions faced by migrant workers in Qatar, are often reluctant to address the same issues that are woven into the fabric of the World Cup. Perhaps it is not as easy when the finger of blame points to those who are closer to home.

Last month, a media investigation highlighted that garment workers producing England football shirts for Nike are paid just over $1 per hour. Kits worn by players such as Harry Kane and Jack Grealish are made in low-wage factories around the world. In many cases workers are from the same countries where migrant workers in Qatar originate, and suffer the same abusive conditions.

Poverty wages and unsafe factories prevail in the garment industry. Workers from impoverished communities are often recruited both domestically and internationally to work in industrial zones where employers take advantage of favourable trade agreements.  Recruitment fees and accommodation costs are taken out of monthly salaries, severely limiting workers’ earning potential. Workers are often deceived about pay and conditions, and are trapped when their passports are confiscated by employers.

Despite publicly supporting calls for a compensation fund to be set up for migrant construction workers in Qatar, official FIFA sponsor adidas is currently under fire from labour rights advocates for persistent wage theft, union busting and mass lay-offs in its own supply chain.  It is estimated that workers from eight adidas supplier factories in Cambodia are owed $11.7 million in unpaid wages. In 2020, 1,020 workers from Hulu Garment, an adidas supplier, were tricked into signing voluntary resignations, so that the factory could avoid paying $3.6 million in severance. In October 2019, workers at Jeans Knit, an adidas supplier factory in India, went on strike when their workload doubled and those who could not keep up were fired. The factory fired 250 workers and harassed others, mostly migrant workers. Adidas failed to take prompt action to remedy the violations. Just last month, two thousand workers at Myanmar Pou Chen, an adidas shoe supplier factory, held a three-day strike over low pay. In response, 29 workers were fired, and union members targeted. These are just a handful of the worker rights violations in adidas supplier factories during the past decade.

The FIFA World Cup has been built on the exploitation of workers, and whichever way you look it is workers from the global South who are paying the price. This is not through lack of money: adidas spent $800 million to extend its sponsorship of the World Cup until 2030, Qatari officials estimate that the country has spent $200 billion on preparations, and FIFA itself will pay a prize pot of $440 million. There is plenty of money exchanging hands, but little will reach the workers who have made the World Cup possible.

This exploitation is by design rather than by accident, whether it is Qatari construction companies, or official sponsors like adidas. Companies pursue the cheapest labour around the globe to maximise their profits. Workers with limited employment options are actively recruited from the same low-wage economy countries. Trade unions are repressed at the earliest opportunity, dashing any chance that workers have of securing better conditions or wages.

The tragic loss of life involved in constructing the FIFA World Cup means that it is too late for many workers. Through its inaction, FIFA and its sponsors have allowed ‘the beautiful game’ to be stained with blood. But it is not too late for the Qatari Government, FIFA and major sponsors such as adidas to take action to mitigate the impact on workers. A coalition of human rights groups are calling on FIFA and Qatar to provide financial compensation to workers and their families. At the same time, the Clean Clothes Campaign, along with a coalition of over 260 trade unions and labour rights groups is calling on major sports brands including adidas to negotiate with trade unions and sign a binding agreement on wages, severance, and labour rights. It is not too late for this to be a game of two halves for labour rights, if only powerful decision makers will finally put people before profits.

Spotlight on Adidas

As one of the worlds biggest sports brands, Adidas has a shocking record of wage theft, labour rights violations, and harassment in their supply chain. Workers are organising and speaking up to let the world know the real adidas.

Garment worker unions from across the world have come together to say enough is enough: It is time for adidas to sign a binding agreement on wages, severance, and the freedom to organise to ensure that workers in its supply chain are never again robbed of the money they’ve earned.

If adidas are willing to spend $800m sponsoring FIFA, why won’t they spend just 10 cents more per product to end wage theft in their supply chain?

Call out: Could you become a Trustee?

Call out: Could you become a Trustee?

 CALL OUT: 
 Could you become
 a trustee?  

Applications now open for new trustee recruitment

We are recruiting trustees

The Labour Behind the Label Trust are currently welcoming applications for new trustees. We are open to applications from anyone with a passion for changing the fashion industry for the better. You could be a trade unionist, a person from the media or the world of fashion, or be a current or ex-garment worker. People from all backgrounds are welcome to apply.

We are particularly interested in applications from those with experience working with funding groups, major donor fundraising and agencies, and those who can help us to develop stronger community links in Leicester, home to the largest garment-producing hub in the UK.

Find out more by downloading the person spec,  and send your submission in. This application has a rolling deadline.  

About you

 

We are striving for LBL to be more representative of the garment workers we serve, most of whom are people of colour from the global South. This means we particularly welcome applications from people with lived experiences of racism and/or migration.

There are several additional communities under-represented among LBL trustees at present, including but not limited to, trans and non-binary people and those with disabilities. As a course of positive action to improve representation in our team, we actively encourage applications from these under-represented groups.

 

 

Solidarity with Sri Lanka unions fighting repression

Solidarity with Sri Lanka unions fighting repression

Solidarity with Sri lankaN unions fighting repression

 

LBL has joined partners to issue a statement of solidarity for trade unions in Sri Lanka who are fighting repression

In recent months, the Sri Lankan government increased its repression amidst an economic and political crisis, sending in the army on workers protesting peacefully. Today our partners Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union together with the National Labour Advisory Council Trade union Collective are holding a members rally at the Public Library in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. CCC, Labour Behind The Label, Maquila Solidarity Network, Workers United and War on Want support the unions, who condemn the government’s disregard for the voice of trade unions and demand the Labour Ministry calls for an immediate meeting of the National Labour Advisory Council.