You Shop, We Drop

5 03 2008

While driving around my hometown the other day, I noticed a Tesco truck driving opposite me in the other lane. If you have never seen one of these big, blue Tesco trucks before, then basically it is a large vehicle used for the transportation of goods from one store to the next. Each has the phrase ‘You Shop, We Drop’ on the sides, while a picture of Tesco carrier bags with products that can be purchased at any Tesco store accompany the phrase too.

Normally when I see such a truck I think nothing of them, however from starting this blog, the phrase really stuck with me while I was continuing to drive, since the phrase suddenly had a double connotation that I never realised before. We all know the first meaning of the phrase, since many of you reading this will have ordered products from Tesco online and have had them ‘dropped’ to your homes via home delivery, however the second meaning isn’t so clear. While Tesco are the ones gaining the products to sell to consumers, the people who create them ‘drop’ for other reasons – particularly as a result of long-working hours, poor working and living conditions and wages small enough to not even support an individual let alone an entire family.

War On Want’s Fashion Victims: The true cost of cheap clothes at Primark, Asda and Tesco is a particularly useful resource in looking at Tesco’s involvement in the exploitation of workers, especially when you come to realise that in 2005 alone Tesco made a profit of £2.21 billion.

War On Want’s research occured with 60 workers between August and October 2006 at six factories across Bangladesh. As each factory contained well over 500 workers, then you may be thinking that by simply interviewing 10 workers from each factory doesn’t give a clear representation of the entire population and this would be true. However, in saying this, I personally feel that as the experiences I am going to write about are quite similar, then such a number from each factory is plausable. Moreover, as Factory’s A, D, E and F were the ones which produced products primarily for Tesco – but also for Asda/George and Primark too – then these are going to be the ones discussed for the basis of this post.

Asda, Tesco and Primark have all signed up to the following Code of Conduct, however from some of the case studies War on Want give, it is hard to see why they have in fact signed up to the Code:

Workers shall not on a regular basis be required to work in excess of 48 hours per week and shall be provided with at least one day off every seven day period on average. Overtime shall be voluntary, shall not exceed 12 hours per week, shall not be demanded on a regular basis and shall always be compensated at a premium rate.’

Lina, aged 22, is one of the factory workers that was interviewed and she stated that she had worked in the garment industry since the age of 13, as her family were unable to continue to pay for her education, due to her brother becoming ill . Being able to operate a sewing machine means that Lina is paid £17 per month – the average wage per month is £22 – yet for this amount of money to reach Lina means that she has to work between 60 and 90 hours every week. This is certainly well above the 48 hours that Tesco signed up to adhere too with the Code of Conduct.

As we have seen from the Code of Conduct, the maximum number of overtime hours a worker can complete per week should not exceed 12, equating to 48 hours per month, however these merely seem to be empty words for Tesco, due to Abdul’s story. Abdul, another one of the factory workers interviewed, stated that he worked 60 to 70 hours of overtime every month. Even if this sounds shocking, then consider Ifat who stated that he worked 140 hours of overtime in one month – near enough a total of 6 whole days!


Bangladeshi garment workers
(Copyright: Fernando Moleres/Panos Pictures)

For all of you that are currently working, I imagine that the building you reside in is sturdy and many safety protocols are in place – such as having emergency exits – which in effect makes you feel at ease in case something bad was to occur. However, imagine that you were a factory worker in Bangladesh during February and March 2006, since all would not be the same…

War On Want claim that in February and March 2006 numerous garment factories collapsed, while fires in such factories resulted in over 100 workers dying and many more becoming injured. The workers that were interviewed claimed that many could not escape, due to the fact that the emergency exits were locked and amazingly still are.

In May of that year, the surviving workers protested about their pay and conditions – a freedom of speech that we all seem to take for granted I feel – however War On Want state that this was done in vain, due to clashes with police causing one worker to die and many becoming injured. Such a peaceful protest by the factory workers even caused one of the factories supplying Tesco with their products to drop the rate the workers were paid per piece of clothing; I find all of this unjust.

Now I realise that some of you will be thinking ‘So what is the point to this blog post?’ and I would have to say that there is no ulterior motive except for presenting you the facts to make up your own mind. I realise that for many, this post may have been an eye opener yet nothing will come of it, but even if one person reading this was to change their shopping habits will, in a small way, help to eradicate some of the suffering that is going on at this very second hundreds and thousands of miles away.

To read the information for yourself, click here. All comments on either the information pack or my own blog post would be much appreciated!

On a slightly related note, if any of you are thinking ‘Stefan, why do you keep going on about clothes and exploitation when there are other areas to look at too’ then do not worry, since the next blog post will focus on an area of exploitation that many fuel through consuming merely for aesthetic values.

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6 responses

5 03 2008
Ash

Thanks for the insight on what’s going on with Tesco, Asda/George, Primark. It was a rather enlightening post.

5 03 2008
Kerry

This is so depressing…
It makes it worse when you find out that Tesco test the dye in their clothes on animals aswell.

I can honestly say I do not buy any clothes off of them.

The Western world is so greedy… And the world is paying for it. I had a talk from a photographer today, (Sue Cunningham). She has travelled around the amazon, and it was so depressing too see all the tribes, because although they are okay there homes are being cut down etc… and what for? Us.

=/

This post reminds me of the saying “Food for thought!” Lol. 🙂

x

6 03 2008
Hannah

Thanks for the insight. I do find it rather ironic how Tesco’s slogan on their trucks is ‘You shop. We drop.’ After reading your previous posts and then seeing that phrase, I immediately thought of the second meaning that you mentioned. I haven’t really thought much about this topic, but it is a big problem and something needs to be done.

7 03 2008
Lor

you have raised some really serious issues, but i can’t help but wonder whether merely avoiding these companies products will really make a difference? How much control do UK companies really have over the factories in third world countries? I do not agree with these appauling actions by any means. I was just wondering what can we really do that will make the difference apart from buying fairtrade products.

7 03 2008
Diana

It is completely appalling to learn about these issues going on. Granted I personally knew of sweatshops but the public is rarely ever told which companies utilize these workers. (Thanks Stef for the insight). I don’t think a boycott of these products would do anything unless it was on an enormous scale for a long period of time. Unfortunately society as a whole has become dependent on certain products and I think socially dependent on certain looks or brands. Because of this I don’t think there is anyway to successfully boycott these products, short of locking up 80% of the general population who are oblivious or just don’t care. A lot of the times even when you tell people what is going on it goes in one ear and out the other. I can’t even fathom a solution other then continuing to bring this issue to light in hopes that it can effect people enough to think more about what they are purchasing and hopefully help them make better choices in the future.

29 03 2008
Laurie

You’ve given me a lot to think about here …

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