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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?
Press Release: Protesters commemorating Rana Plaza 10th anniversary target London fashion stores

Press Release: Protesters commemorating Rana Plaza 10th anniversary target London fashion stores

For immediate release

Hook10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory disaster // International Workers Memorial Day 2023

 

‘Remember the dead, fight for the living’ – protesters commemorating Rana Plaza disaster target Oxford Street fashion stores

 

  • Protesters gathered outside clothing stores in central London on Sunday 23 April 2023 to remember the victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh on 24 April 2023 and denounce slow progress on garment workers rights a decade on.

On Sunday 23 April, protesters gathered outside a number of Oxford Street fashion stores in a ‘Cost of Fashion’ walking tour to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and honour the lives of the 1138 garment workers who were killed. 

Protesters shamed brands that had been sourcing from the ‘death-trap’ factory before it collapsed. Organisers Rana Plaza Solidarity Collective are calling on all clothing companies to sign up to the International Accord, to ensure a disaster like Rana Plaza never happens again. A number of brands including ASDA, IKEA, and Levi’s have not yet signed this binding agreement to improve workers’ safety in their supply chains.

Tyrone Scott from War on Want, one of the organisations in the Rana Plaza Solidarity Collective said: “The deadly Rana Plaza disaster was not an unavoidable accident – it was an entirely preventable disaster. Rana Plaza workers who made clothes for several UK high street fashion brands had previously raised safety concerns but were ignored. A decade on and garment workers are still facing unsafe working conditions and poverty wages. Clothing brands must urgently sign the International Accord on Fire and Building Safety and commit to guaranteeing safe workplaces, for genuine justice for the victims of Rana Plaza – and for all garment workers.”

Maya Thomas-Davis from Labour Behind the Label, another organisation in the Rana Plaza Solidarity Collective said: “A decade on from Rana Plaza, garment workers around the world are still organising against death-trap workplaces, union-busting and poverty pay while clothing brands pocket huge profits. Brands must clean up their act, stop driving a global race-to-the-bottom in working conditions, and sign the International Accord to guarantee factory safety through independent oversight and trade union power.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

For media enquiries please contact:

  • Tyrone Scott – tscott@waronwant.org // +447927613381

  •  Maya Thomas-Davis – maya@labourbehindthelabel.org // +447491669231

High quality photos of the protest are available on request.

For further information: https://ranaplaza-solidarity.org/ 

The Rana Plaza Solidarity Collective is supported by the following organisations and individuals: Rainbow Collective, Traid, Nijjor Manush, Re-Make, Labour Behind the Label, War on Want, Oh So Ethical, No Sweat, Tansy Hoskins, Venetia La Manna. 

Press kit containing transcripts and recordings of interviews with trade union leaders in Bangladesh, background information, and other materials. 

Rana Plaza timeline: https://ranaplazaneveragain.org/timeline/

Feature photo credit: Angela Christofilou

Adidas slammed for poor workers’ rights in Guerrilla Advert campaign

Adidas slammed for poor workers’ rights in Guerrilla Advert campaign

For immediate release: 8 March 2023
Hook: International Women’s Day 2023

  • Activists put subversive posters up in multiple bus stops in two major UK cities
  • Posters highlight Adidas low pay for female factory workers in face of ‘woke’ adidas marketing
  • Workers’ rights campaigners are calling on Adidas to support all women in their factories by signing an agreement to commit to wages, severance pay and the freedom to organise.

Workers’ rights activists have ‘hijacked’ multiple advertising spaces in bus stops in Bristol and Manchester to protest Adidas ‘woke-washing’ on International Women’s Day.

The unauthorised poster campaign [1] appeared in bus stops on 7 March, alongside online posts calling out the sportswear brand for its ‘duplicitous’ support for women. Campaign group Labour Behind the Label [2] say Adidas factory workers around the world face extreme low pay, and undermining of their rights.

“Adidas use slick marketing campaigns to sell clothes and convince consumers that they support women. The truth is workers around the world in adidas suppliers testify that wages are not enough to support their families and live with dignity,” said Anna Bryher, Advocacy Lead for Labour Behind the Label

80% of garment workers worldwide are women [3], and the vast majority are paid less than a minimum living wage, with no job security and lack of rights in the workplace [4]. Campaigners have documented systematic wage theft and cases of human rights violations in adidas suppliers, spanning almost 2 decades. [5]

Documented cases include the hundreds of workers at adidas shoe factory Myanmar Pou Chen, who held a 3-day strike in October 2022 to demand a wage rise from £1.92 per day (4,800 kyat) to £3.20 per day (8,000 kyat). 26 workers were fired, all women.[6]

Anna Bryher added:

“The fashion industry is built on exploitation of women of colour. While Adidas is not the only brand that hides behind their marketing, Adidas’s pseudo-feminist and performative anti-racist marketing approach tries to position them as an ethical lead in the industry. This is duplicitous. We are calling on adidas to change this, actually support women, and sign an agreement with unions to commit to wages, severance pay and the freedom to organise for women in their factories.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

Contact: Anna Bryher, anna@labourbehindthelabel.org, 07786 832035

[1]  https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1ttl6TlahK4X6twS3fxMnarm1sCibt70T?usp=sharing

[2] Labour Behind the Label is a UK NGO working alongside unions and workers’ right groups in global fashion supply chains to improve workers’ access to rights and fair wages. www.labourbehindthelabel.org

[3] ILO Brief on Gendered Impacts of Covid-19 on the Garment Sector, Introduction para 2 https://www.ilo.org/asia/publications/WCMS_760374/lang–en/index.htm

[4] https://cleanclothes.org/fashions-problems

[5] https://adidassteals.com/adidas-theft-worldwide

[6] https://myanmar-now.org/en/news/yangon-factory-and-adidas-supplier-sacks-nearly-30-workers-for-striking-in-demand-of-wage

 

Artwork for posters featured was designed by graphic artist Matt Bonner –http://www.revoltdesign.org/

The artwork was distributed by Labour Behind the Label but the campaign take no responsibility for the choices made by fashion workers’ rights activists to put posters up in advertising spaces.

ASOS AGM Question 2023

Question to the board of ASOS
AGM date: 11th January 2023
Venue: Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London NW1 7FB
Time: 12.00

Question on living wages and long-term security for workers

In 2021, ASOS announced the launch of its 2030 Programme for Fashion with Integrity, which included commitments to net zero, circularity diversity and transparency. We understand that progress towards these goals will be measured by a series of KPIs linked to the CEO performance and committee renumeration packages. We also note that ASOS has committed to developing a human rights saliency assessment this year in order to detail its concrete plans. While these commitments are welcomed, LBL is clear that paper commitments are meaningless without positive impacts in the real world,  and indeed decades of such paper commitments have not resulted in real progress towards decent work and decent wages for garment workers globally.

Can you provide clear details of how this assessment will measure short, medium and long-term progress towards freedom of association in ASOS suppliers, the actual payment of a living wage by ASOS suppliers and the improvement of working conditions?

In particular, considering the statement by the new CEO that ASOS is focusing on a shorter buying cycle, a test and react sourcing model and optimising costs, can you outline how this will not in practice negatively impact ASOS’ commitment to long term relationships with suppliers, longer lead terms, improved forecasting and prices which clearly ringfence or cover wage costs which act as ‘key enablers’ ensuring progress towards a living wage?

 For reference: https://www.asosplc.com/fashion-with-integrity/people/modern-slavery-and-human-rights/

 

Press release: Concerns raised about Primark’s commitments towards supply chain workers ahead of Annual General Meeting

Press release for immediate use: 9 December, 2022

Representatives from the human rights campaign group Labour Behind the Label will today raise concerns that Primark is not doing enough to protect workers during the global economic downturn.

The garment industry is facing a crunch point as the global economic downturn sends shockwaves through all economies. Garment suppliers, both in the UK and overseas have reported a drop in orders from brands which is further squeezing supplier factories still reeling from pandemic-related financial loss.

These financial losses are ultimately passed on to workers themselves. The Clean Clothes Campaign estimates that garment workers are owed $11 billion in unpaid wages from the first 12 months of the pandemic alone [1]. Reductions in orders during the Covid-19 crisis resulted in a wave of factory closures, resulting in thousands of workers who were not paid their legally owed severance [2].

Factory closures are set to continue in the current economic downturn, and losses will continue to be passed on to workers, with short-term contracts not renewed, wages and compensation unpaid.

Labour Behind the Label will ask what Primark is doing to ensure its due diligence is met with respect to ensuring workers receive their pay and severance when factories do close, and specifically whether it will meet requests from unions to join a binding severance guarantee fund to protect workers from bearing the cost of factory closures.

“I have to pay debt, water, and electricity bills monthly, but my wages are not enough. I don’t want to see high production targets with a decreasing number of workers to meet them. We don’t have enough income to pay for our basic living costs.”

Worker producing for Primark in Cambodia [3]

“Primark has continued to profit after the pandemic. For them, the crisis may be over, but the workers making their clothes are still impacted by pandemic-related wage theft and live under the constant threat of job loss due to reducing orders. Primark must ensure that the most vulnerable in their supply chain do not pay the biggest price during the economic crisis. They must commit to a binding severance guarantee to provide a safety net for the workers who make their clothes.”

Meg Lewis, Campaigns Lead – Labour Behind the Label

“Primark has continued to profit after the pandemic. For them the crisis may be over, but the workers making their clothes are still impacted by pandemic-related wage theft and live under the threat of job loss due to reducing orders. Primark must ensure that the most vulnerable in their supply chain do not pay the biggest price during the economic crisis. They must commit to a binding severance guarantee to provide a safety net for the workers who make their clothes.”

The full text of the question being put to the Primark board is available here.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

  • Labour Behind the Label is a campaign that works to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry.
  • The Primark Annual General Meeting will be held at Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street on Friday, 9 December 2022 at 11 am.

[1] Clean Clothes Campaign (2021)  Still Underpaid: How the garment industry has failed to pay its garment workers during the pandemic

[2] Workers Rights Consortium (2021) Fired, then robbed: Fashion brands’ complicity in wage theft during Covid-19.

[3] Clean Clothes Campaign (2021) Breaking point: Wage theft, violence and excessive workloads are pushing garment workers to breaking point during the pandemic.

Primark (ABF) AGM Question 2022

Question to the board of Associated British Foods plc
AGM date: 9th December 2022
Venue: Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street, London
Time: 11.00

Question on factory closures and compensation for workers

My name is Meg, and I’m here today from Labour Behind the Label. My question today is about Primark’s approach to factory closures and compensation for workers in production countries following supply chain disruption, past and future. The garment industry is facing a crunch point as the global economic downturn sends shockwaves through all economies, and the lowest paid in supply chains feel the impact. Garment suppliers both here in the UK and overseas have reported a drop in orders from brands, which is further squeezing businesses still reeling from pandemic-related financial loss. This in turn results in factory closures. Losses are passed on to workers, as short term contracts are not renewed, and compensation and wages are not paid. A Business and Human Rights Resource Centre report shows that unionised workers have been unfairly targeted due to union membership and organising. Social protection and freedom of association should be the nets in place to ensure workers are protected from these kind of economic shocks, but we all know that social protection globally is lacking for the majority of workers who make clothing.

In the AB Foods Responsibility Report 2022, you state that “The erosion of workers’ rights, and the ongoing effects of COVID-19 pose a significant threat to [workers’] quality of life” as well as risk to business supply chains, and also note that the UN Guiding Principles require businesses to have a systematic approach to human rights due diligence.

Given this background, my question relates to what Primark is doing to ensure its due diligence is met with respect to ensuring workers receive their pay and severance when factories do close. Specifically,

  • Does Primark ensure supplier reserves are enough to make wage payments and severance payouts in the event of closure as part of its responsible exit policy?
  • What is Primark’s response to requests from unions to join a binding severance guarantee fund to protect workers from bearing the cost of factory closures?

Finally, can the board speak to the concrete measures Primark has put in place to protect the right of workers to organise and bargain collectively?