#WhoMadeMyClothes – Tesco Talks3 years ago
Tesco may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you consider ethical trading. However their F&F clothing range aims to deliver “great products at great prices from factories that (they) are proud of”, and they claim that they ‘want to be a force for change in both reducing our social and environmental impact’. But when a your child’s school polo shirt costs just £2.50 for 2, you do wonder what corners are cut to achieve the incredibly low price.
Since the tragedy of the Rana Plaza, working conditions in Bangladesh’s clothing factories have been put under scrutiny. We, the consumers, have been forced to consider #whomademyclothes? Tesco’s shiny corporate website naturally says all the things that we want to hear. So, in an attempt to dig deeper and find out what Tesco is actually doing, I spoke to Dani Baker, Corporate Responsibility Manager of F&F here in the UK, and Mashuda Begum, Senior Manager of Responsible Sourcing, working on the ground in Bangladesh.
Q: What practical steps is Tesco taking to improve working conditions in Bangladesh? Dani: We are committed to ensure that anyone who supplies any products to F&F has the best possible condition for their workers. We understand that this cannot be done from afar, but by working in direct partnership with all our suppliers, which is why we have people around the world working on the ground. In Bangladesh we have a team of about 60 people who not only check things like the fire and safety standards of factories, but also make sure that corners are not cut. So that the factories are a good place to be with staff being paid a decent wage, on time and wider social economic issues are being addressed – like ensuring that their children can go to school.
We have also been proud to support a number of initiatives, including programmes like the Benefits for Business and Working (BBW) training, run by Impactt, since 2010. Through this scheme, we have seen real improvements in factories as they have looked at ways to not only to improve the efficiency of the production line and the quality of the work, but also at human resources, communication and worker welfare. The results have been amazing in providing workers with reduced hours, better pay and benefits. Another project, Phulki, is a women’s empowerment scheme which provides crèches for female workers so they have somewhere safe to leave their children whilst they work- helping to protect them from the possible dangers of drowning, sexual abuse or even trafficking.
All of the factories we use have regular independent audits. We don’t just take the audit results at face value, our team on the ground ensure a more long-term collaborative approach; this includes a number of interventions such as running interactive workshops with our factories, so we can work with them on problems that arise, and support them running their factory safely and legally.
Q: That’s great that Tesco is regularly in the factories. But, how do you know that what they show you truly reflects everyday practice? Dani: This is why it is important to us that we build up long-term collaborative partnerships with our suppliers, so we can have a real insight into their everyday practices. The majority of the factories we use, we have worked with for over five years. However, the product is also a good indicator as to whether everything is OK in the factories. We regularly check the quality and if there are any persistent issues, this tends to flag up that there may be a problem.
Q: Your website states that your team in Bangladesh are there to ‘build relationships and to ensure decent working standards.’ But what does that mean in practice? Mashuda: It means providing a safe and hygienic working environment where adequate steps have been taken to prevent fire related, machine and safety accidents. Workers receive regular and recorded health and safety training, and this training will be repeated for new or reassigned workers. We also mandate that workers should have access to clean toilet facilities and to potable water, and, if appropriate, sanitary facilities for food storage shall be provided. Accommodation, where provided, should be clean, safe, and meet the basic needs of the workers.
Q: What are some of the challenges of implementing this in Bangladesh? Dani:Hartals occur relatively regularly and sometimes are violent; roads are often blocked off which can mean that certain parts of the capital can get cut off. This is difficult not just for F&F and our employees in Dhaka, but also for the factories. Products and materials that need to be received by the factories in order for their workforce to make an order can be delayed. The workforce whose role it is to make the product could be sitting and waiting for deliveries to arrive for days and this can ultimately lead to longer working days, when they finally arrive. Factory training programmes, meetings and visits – no matter how important – must be put on hold and rescheduled.
We have also be working to help some factory owners understand that cutting corners doesn’t make sense in the long run. The short term gain of not providing workers with basic safety equipment is likely to have a long-term detrimental effect on their business and workers and just doesn’t make sense. It has also been a challenge for them to see us and the BBW as part of the process and fellow collaborators and not just seen as external people in their factory. In some cases it has been a more effective process to empower the workforce to initiate change with some factory owners.
Q: As documented in The True Cost movie, there is clearly an issue in Bangladesh of workers not having the right to collective bargaining with factory owners. How does Tesco use their influence on factory owners to persuade them it is worth their while improving conditions for the workers? Mashuda: Tesco requires that all factories that we use in Bangladesh must have a Workers Participatory Committee formed through an election process, to ensure the workers’ rights and benefits. During our regular audits we monitor whether this has been in place and it is viewed as a violation of law if the factory doesn’t comply, which we follow up until this criteria has been met.
Q: What social enterprise work are you doing in Bangladesh? Dani: Studies have shown that children, in the developing world, who go to school in uniform perform better in tests and have lower rates of absenteeism. This year we are donating 20,000 school uniforms in Bangladesh as part of our Buy One, Give One scheme. When a customer buys an item from the Buy One, Give One range we will donate an entire uniform. So as our polo shirts are made in Bangladesh for every pack bought we donate a uniform to a child there.
Please click here for more information.
The True Cost Movie – www.truecostmovie.com
#whomademyclothes? – www.fashionrevolution.org
Project BBW – www.impacttlimited.com
All photos used with permission of Tesco.
Blog kindly reproduced with permission from N4Mummy