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Waiting for Tesco: An Update

November, 29 2006 Share

For just $15 a Week, Tesco could End Child Labor
What are they waiting for?

By Charles Kernaghan
November 16, 2006

Read the NLC report on the Evince Group

Fifty under-aged teenage workers who sewed Tesco garments at the Evitex Apparel factory in Bangladesh have been exploited, lied to, and now fired and thrown out of the factory with nothing.  For just $15 a week, these teenagers could be sent back to school where they belong.  In fact, this is what Tesco, by far the largest retailer in the U.K. and a founding member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, guaranteed consumers—that no one under 18 years of age would ever sew their garments, and that if under-aged workers were found, they would be sent back to school.  So what is Tesco waiting for?

Tesco knows what is going on.  Reportedly, a Tesco representative specifically instructed Evitex management not to fire any of the under-aged teenage workers until a thorough investigation was completed.  This did not stop Evitex from lying to the children, telling them that they could no longer work at the factory, but all the same they would still be able to come to the factory every month to receive their wages.  The teenagers could return to school, they were told, and when they reached 18, they could return to the factory and earn a better wage.  It sounded good, but it was a lie.

In November, when the under-aged workers showed up for their wages, they were sent packing.  There would be no wages.  Some were forced to sign blank pieces of paper, and everyone was told it would be better for them if they moved away from the area altogether.  Obviously Evitex management did not think very much of Tesco's code of conduct.

Before these firings in October, the under-aged sewing operators worked nine to eleven-hour shift, earning as little as 14 cents an hour and $6.84 a week.  Many workers felt that they were not paid their correct overtime wages.

No one was even asked their age when they were hired, but they were instructed to lie to Tesco auditors regarding their age.

Now these under-aged workers are in real trouble and they need help.  U.K. consumers have a right to demand that Tesco and the Ethical Trading Initiative do something immediately.

The children were fired after Channel 4 alerted Tesco that they had found and secretly filmed under-aged workers at the Evitex Apparel factory.

The National Labor Committee (NLC) met in Dhaka with a group of the fired Evitex workers on Saturday, November 4.  The majority gave their ages as 13 to 17 years old.

A 16-year-old told the NLC, "on October 4, [Tesco] buyers came to the factory.  The buyers asked me, 'how old are you?' I told them I am 18 years old.  The buyers said they doubted this age. ...  The PM [Production Manager] told me I should come every month on the 10th to receive my salary, but I don't need to work."

A 17-year-old chimed in, "We were told that the workers who were interested in education, they could continue their education and they would also be receiving their wages every month from the factory management...after we got that hope, we contacted a teacher, for schooling.  But now they have said that they will not give us money."

It was all a lie.  The reality is that, "There were around 50 under-aged workers 15, 16, 17 years old...They are now out of the factory.  All have been asked to go home.  We have no jobs, we are fired, and we are not continuing our education."

The workers have no savings and they barely survive, living hand to mouth.  The wages are so low, the workers said, "It's hard, hard to support life."

"We need to work because we need money to survive," a 16-year-old said.  "So now it is important that we survive.  We need to survive, so we need money."

Asked if they would like to say anything to the consumers in the U.K. or to Tesco, the 16 and 17-year-olds responded:  "If we have the chance to talk to the buyers, we would say that they are putting our lives in danger because they are supposed to pay our salary, but they did not.  They wanted to give us an education, but they didn't—they have deprived us, not having the job.  We are saying, until we are 18, they should continue supporting our lives... They promised they would continue supporting us until we were 18, but they didn't."

Now Evitex management is telling the under-aged workers:  "Don't stay around the factory.  Leave the whole area.  Not only don't come [to get your wages], but leave the area."  They want this, "so that no one can find us."

"We don't know what they will do, but we are afraid."

"Another point I would like to make," said the 16-year-old, "If we are shown, if this tape is given to management, there will be problems."

The under-aged workers themselves estimated that if they could be paid a monthly stipend of just 4,000 to 5,000 taka ($59.26 to $74.07), they could go to school and still survive, and have a school uniform, shoes and books.  This comes to an average of just $15.38 a week to send these kids back to school.

Tesco has reported 2.1 billion dollars in profits in just the last six months.  Surely for a corporation Tesco's size, we are literally talking about pennies here.

The time for more words has passed.  It is time for Tesco and the Ethical Trading Initiative to act—immediately!  Stand by the children who sewed your clothing.