27 June 2007
Ethical sourcing row flares over 5p an hour workers
NEWSHOOK Tesco annual general meeting
TIMING 10.30 am, Friday 29 June 2007
PLACE Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Broad Sanctuary, Westminster, London SW1P 3EE
Tesco comes under fire today for opposing calls to improve the plight of workers in Bangladesh paid 5p an hour to produce clothes for its British stores.
Britain's leading retailer is recommending shareholders at its annual meeting vote against a resolution that calls for supplier factories to undergo independent auditing to ensure decent pay and conditions for employees.
The resolution - the first from an individual shareholder to be voted on at a Tesco AGM - will be proposed by Ben Birnberg, company secretary for the anti-poverty charity War on Want, at the meeting on Friday (29 June).
It has won support from more than 100 shareholders, including the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, an independent organisation which holds close to a million shares. PIRC, the independent advisory body to institutional investors, has defied Tesco's instructions by advising shareholders to abstain from voting.
Backing for the resolution will also come from Bangladesh researcher Khorshed Alam, who interviewed workers who make Tesco clothes in the country's capital Dhaka and who will be in London for the meeting. The interviews were conducted for War on Want?s report Fashion Victims, which showed employees were regularly working 80 hours a week for just 5p an hour in potential deathtrap factories.
Mr Birnberg said: "Tesco prides itself on promoting core values and seeking to uphold labour standards in the supply chain. Yet our evidence shows Tesco keeps its prices low by exploiting workers in developing countries like Bangladesh. If Tesco is genuine about its ethical pretensions, why are its directors advising shareholders to vote down my resolution?"
Mr Alam, who works for the Alternative Movement for Research and Freedom Society in Dhaka, said: "The workers I interviewed toil for paltry wages up to 20 hours a day in locked premises, despite garment factory fires and building collapses which left almost 100 employees dead. I have travelled to London to speak up for the rights of Bangladeshi workers."
The failure of Tesco and other retailers to tackle problems of labour standards in the supply chain underlines the need for government action, according to War on Want. The charity is calling on new Prime Minister Gordon Brown to appoint an independent regulator to oversee compliance with the national Supermarket Code of Practice on the part of Tesco and its competitors.
Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Mr Birnberg and Mr Alam are available for interview.
- Fashion Victims can be downloaded here.
- War on Want offers film on exploited Colombian workers from flower farms that claim to ensure ethical treatment for employees and the environment. Tesco buys flowers from such farms. The film is here. Please contact Paul Collins for the broadcast-quality version.
- Tesco announced record £2.6bn profits in April, with a final dividend of 6.83p per share, a 12 per cent increase on the previous year.
- Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy was paid £4.6m in cash and shares last year.
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