Watchdog slammed for abandoning poorest workers

15 February 2008 - 1:41pm
Press release

The anti-poverty charity War on Want today attacked the Competition Commission remedies report on supermarkets for ignoring the impact of the big four supermarkets' buying practices on workers in overseas supply chains.

The Commission's failure comes despite strong evidence from farmers, trade unions and non-governmental organisations which have exposed the devastating consequences of supermarket power for suppliers overseas.

War on Want, a member of campaign group the Tescopoly Alliance, welcomed the Competition Commission's recognition that supermarkets are bullying their suppliers in the UK. Yet the Commission's refusal to widen its inquiry to include overseas suppliers was a shameful omission, the charity said.

UK supermarkets source a large proportion of their products from overseas suppliers, including food, garments and flowers. The cheap labour used to produce these products has helped British supermarkets generate huge profits, but has left workers in developing countries in poverty despite the long hours they work.

War on Want also wants the code of practice which governs supermarkets to be made legally binding and extended to suppliers overseas.

Recent scandals show how supermarkets continue to bully overseas suppliers into producing goods at lower and lower cost, with devastating impacts on local workers:

February 2008 - New research shows Kenyan and Colombian staff toiling up to 14 hours a day preparing flowers for Valentine's Day for less than half a living wage - too little to meet the costs of food, housing and healthcare. In Kenya workers at smallholdings which export their flowers through larger farms receive on average only ?20 a month, or less than 10p an hour.

December 2007 - Workers are still being paid less than half a living wage producing clothes for leading UK retailers Primark, Tesco and Asda in Bangladesh - a year after War on Want's report Fashion Victims exposed their sweatshops. The £4.6 million in salary and bonuses for Tesco?s chief executive Sir Terry Leahy could pay the annual wages of more than 25,000 Bangladeshi garment employees who supply its stores, based on average wages of about ?15 a month.

March 2007 - Mothers in Colombia growing flowers for sale in British supermarkets for Mothers Day face poverty wages and health problems such as repetitive strain injuries. Colombian flower workers complain about their pay, health, working time - up to 15 hours a day - and firms' anti-union hostility at Florverde (Green Flowers)-certified farms which flower exporters claim ensure ethical treatment for workers and the environment. The research shows Colombian flower workers - mostly single mothers - earn just over £24 a week, less than half a living wage.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "The Commission has criticised supermarkets for bullying UK suppliers, but has completely abandoned overseas suppliers and vunerable workers. We have exposed scandals on poverty wages for workers making clothes for Tesco and Asda in poor countries, as well as the exploitation of workers providing flowers to the major supermarkets. It is simply unfair that the proposed supermarket ombudsman will help local suppliers but will ignore those from overseas."

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

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The right to be paid a living wage is a basic entitlement of all working people the world over, whether they work in the public or private sectors, in the global South or North.

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