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].


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.

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[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?