Polish priest in supermarket 'sell out' row

By Ecumenical News International
17 Jul 2008

A Polish priest has defended his decision to allow his parish to be used to advertise and recruit staff for a new Tesco hypermarket, despite previous church criticisms of the British retail giant - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.

"I could have dropped the subject and said this store won't be built on my territory," explained the Rev Adam Kalina, rector of St Urszula Ledochowska Roman Catholic parish in Gdansk's Chelm suburb.

"But there needs to be a shop here," Kalina said. "Our church cares for souls and builds human dignity. I hope it means this employer will see humanity in his employees and not just treat them as human stock."

Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza daily newspaper had reported on 15 June that the 4200 square-metre (45 000 square-foot) hypermarket, covering three floors, would include a shopping mall with underground parking and transform the "sleepy neighbourhood" in the Baltic city. It noted that Tesco was seeking 400 staffers and had paid several thousand zloties to set up offices in the parish.

A Tesco spokesperson, Przemyslaw Skory, had told the newspaper his company was aware Catholic parishes provided "good contact points" in Poland, adding that local priests had helped with recruitment for other Tesco megastores.

About 10 million customers, a quarter of Poland's population, shop each week at Tesco stores. The company has acquired 307 retail outlets and 23 petrol stations since opening in Poland in 1995, and plans to open another 50 in the current financial year.

A Tesco-Poland Web site statement said the company had record profits in 2007 of 8.1 billion zloties (US$3.9 billion) and noted that its outlets were all managed by Polish nationals. It said the company had invested heavily in "development, training and pay rises for employees, as well as improved work safety".

However, many of the company's 28 000 Polish employees have complained of low pay and excessive hours, of being prevented from taking Sundays off, and of being denied the chance to observe Catholic traditions.

In June 2007, the president of Poland's Catholic Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, backed a series of Solidarity trade union go-slows at Tesco outlets, and said compulsory work on Catholic feast days was an "attack on the family" which required a "moral boycott".

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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