Britain’s largest retailer Tesco will today come under fire over 7p an hour garment workers in Bangladesh as shareholders prepare to hail the company’s record £3 billion profits at its annual meeting.
The Church of England is a major shareholder with an investment of £27.5 million in the company, according to the last annual report of the Church Commissioners.
The news comes as the third uncomfortable revelation for the Church in four days.
Yesterday, the Guardian newspaper revealed that Exxon Mobil, in which the Church of England has a shareholding valued at £17.2 million, is continuing to fund lobby groups which question the reality of global warming, despite a public pledge to cut support for such climate change denial. On Tuesday, campaigners announced that the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) would be the subject of a legal action after it was was linked to climate change and human rights violations. The Church has a £8.4 million stake in RBS.
Now the charity War on Want has cited research revealing that employees work up to 80 hours a week making Tesco clothes in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for as little as 1663 taka (£14) a month.
Employees calculate that a worker needs £44.82 (5333 taka) a month to give their family nutritious food, clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport.
In the three Tesco factories researched, average pay, £20 (2280 taka) a month, is less than half a living wage.
Most employees live in small, crowded shacks, many of which lack plumbing and adequate washing facilities.
Runa, who produces Tesco clothes, is one of many young women forced by poverty to leave her rural home to earn money to send back to her family.
She said: “My pay is so meagre that I cannot afford to keep my child with me. I have sent my five-month old baby to the village to be cared for by my mother.”
Ifat, who also toils in a Tesco factory, said: “I can’t feed my children three meals a day.”
Though compulsory overtime is illegal in Bangladesh, employees said they were made to work extra hours, often unpaid.
Workers complained that in the fast fashion rush to produce the latest styles, many of them suffer verbal and physical abuse as they struggle to meet unrealistic targets
War on Want contrasts Tesco’s claim to respect the rights of its garment suppliers to join and form trade unions with the charity’s study which revealed that none of the Dhaka factories investigated was unionised.
The charity adds that Tesco has signed up to a code of conduct under the Ethical Trading Initiative which commits the retailer to pay garment workers living wages, support freedom of association and collective bargaining and to ban harsh treatment and excessive working hours.
Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: “While Tesco has smashed all records with more than £3 billion profits, it is also breaking promises to ensure a living wage and decent conditions for its garment workers. Tesco cannot be trusted to keep its word. The British government must act to stop this abuse.”