The allegations are potentially embarrassing for Tesco, which has prided itself on its strict policy on ethical trading. The supermarket giant is one of the founding members of Ethical Trading Initiative, an organisation that promotes codes of practice governing working conditions for suppliers making products which will be sold in the UK.
Under the ETI code, suppliers are banned from employing children under the age of 15. They must also ensure staff are paid “living wages” and do not work excessively long hours.
It’s also interesting how they look at Tesco here by the way. At one point everyone cries themselves hoarse about saving smaller shops, but who doesn’t want cheaper milk and toilet paper? In fact I think the rule about curbing retail activity on the high street on Sundays here has something to do with protecting smaller shops and little to do with the Christian day-off. I feel bad for the likes of Tesco really. No matter what they do, the media loves to pick on them. Also has something to do with the fact that big departmental stores source their wares from outside the UK. But what really caught my eye today was how reporting can get shoddy. Sample this,
Why does the headline say something about Tesco using child labour in India? Isn’t the report about Bangladesh. Hhmm – Someone hand them a political map of South Asia. Be sure to clearly mark Bangladesh as a country adjacent to India, not inside India please! Even as Channel 4 gets all excited about uncovering how unethical South Asia is when it comes to data handling and children, it might be interesting to read this
As a result, garment employers dismissed about three-quarters of all children employed in the industry. With no access to education and few skills, the children had few alternatives to escape their crushing poverty. Many went looking for new jobs in stone-crushing, street hustling and prostitution – all more hazardous and exploitative than garment making. Recognizing the need for action, UNICEF and the Ipec programme of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) began talks with industry leaders in 1993 to find a solution.
Update – More links
A discussion at the The Argus Forum which sort of underlines that it is Tesco’s responsibility to know where they are sourcing their products from and who makes them. Channel 4’s story and the link to video here. (May not play if accessed outside of the UK).
My guess is that most people in developed countries do not understand the distinction between working in a hazardous industry and other industries. Where exactly does Child Labour end? Even if say a company like Tesco decides to buy clothes only made in the UK or from factories that are declared Child Labour free, will they manage to trace which bale of cotton came from a farm that uses Child Labour? Products are not plucked off factories. The primary sector world over largely uses cheap labour which translates to child labour. You cannot yank a child off his or her livelihood. There is a reason why children work – their parents cannot support them or the child is trying to support him/herself because it would mean abuse at home. Education is not a guarantee in these countries. In the absence of a state that is able to provide a minimum level of education, comfort and safety, a child can only strive to support his or her own self.
Not that any of it justifies child labour – it just underlines how hard it is to say some product is child labour free. Cutting and running would plunge these children into hardship far worse than they are in now. Not that Tesco is bound to consider any of this – but it just calls for rethinking the Ethical Trading Initiative.
This gets even more interesting. Tesco now looks at Channel4 with strange eyes. Because Channel4 could have prevented further exploitation of these children by reporting it months earlier instead of waiting for so long.
It also said that two of the factories involved had not been authorised to produce Tesco clothing, and this had now ceased. Authorised factories, which have age checks in place, had been visited in the last week and no evidence of child labour was found, a Tesco spokesman said.
“We are very disappointed that Channel 4 has waited three months to bring this matter to our attention and, despite repeated requests, did not allow us to see any evidence of their claims before broadcast,” he added.
“We abhor child labour and feel that Channel 4 had a duty to alert us earlier if these allegations are true.