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Tesco's finest tea � produced in far from finest conditions?

Posted to the IUF website 02-Jul-2009

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The IUF fully supports the call from our UK affiliate Unite for the UK-based supermarket Tesco to close the gap between its public policy commitments on socially responsible sourcing and its practices.

The call comes in a shareholder resolution to be put to Tesco's AGM Friday, July 3, 2009. The resolution highlights discriminatory practices in Tesco's meat supply chain and calls on the company to "allocate a non-executive board member to Tesco's Corporate Responsibility Committee to share accountability for the implementation and achievement of Tesco's policy commitments" on human and trade union rights.

West Yorkshire Pension Fund Chairman Ian Greenwood, who supports the Unite resolution, told the UK Guardian "We don't enter these things lightly but there's no question there is evidence of problems in many, many supply lines." In addition to problems in the Tesco meat supply chain identified by Unite, the IUF has now uncovered disturbing conditions on an Indian tea plantation which it has strong grounds to believe to be a part of Tesco's tea supply chain.

In June 2009, an experienced team of IUF researchers investigated living and working conditions on the large Talup plantation in Assam, India which IUF understands to supply tea for Tesco's Finest blends. The plantation management clearly failed to apply even the minimum requirements of the Indian Plantation Labour Act of 1951.

The researchers found clear evidence of:

- substandard housing including homes with no toilets or electricity
- shockingly poor sanitary facilities
- lack of potable water
- evident malnutrition amongst workers
- pesticides being applied by workers without protective clothing.

In addition evidence gathered strongly suggested the presence of child labour

Tesco's Finest? The IUF research team found no evidence that personal protective equipment was provided to workers applying pesticides on the Talup plantation

....including evidence of children working on the estate.

"Tea was the first own brand product sold by Tesco company founder Jack Cohen", commented IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald. "Tesco is currently running a campaign to revive the British tea time, yet at the same time they place at risk their reputation and the company's brand by selling teas sourced from plantations which pay so little attention to working conditions. The IUF calls on Tesco to take all necessary measures to ensure that all tea workers on estates producing for it are truly in compliance with international standards."

While the IUF acknowledges that Tesco is not the only UK retailer to buy from this plantation, Tesco claims that "In addition to its own strict standards", the company plays "a leading role within the wider industry to address ethical and other issues of concern." Its own claims, and its role as market leader, therefore impose a leading responsibility.

Tesco also claims to ensure that its "Suppliers adhere to our voluntary guidelines" and in reply to the UNITE resolution says "we are not in breach of any laws". Their tea supplier in Talup cannot make the same claim.

The full report is available here in PDF