Friday, July 06, 2007

South African fruit picker faces British retail Giant

Tesco, Britain's largest retailer of grocery and general merchandising is far removed from the world that Ms. Gertruida Baartman lives in South Africa. Baartman as a friut picker in South Africa is at the bottom of Tesco's lengthy supply chain.

At the annual general meeting this year, while those at the top of the business are trying to persuade shareholders that Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy should receive an extra £11m if its venture into the US succeeds, the 39-year-old single mother of three often does not have enough money to feed her children, let alone afford the prices that Tesco charges UK consumers for the fruit she picks.

Ms Baartman came to the company's annual meeting, thanks to ActionAid, an international anti-poverty agency, to plead with the board to pay her and her co-workers a living wage.

"Tesco should ensure that we have enough to live on. We are not asking for luxuries, just to be able to live without borrowing, and to respect the rights of women because we really work hard, they must give us what we deserve," she said yesterday.

The farm where she works supplies one of South Africa's largest fruit exporters, Capespan, which last year saw a 122% increase in profits after tax.

At Tesco's AGM this year, shareholders have been asked to support a resolution demanding that Tesco takes measures - to be independently audited - to ensure that workers "are guaranteed decent working conditions, a living wage, job security, freedom of association and of collective bargaining including ... the right to join a trade union of their choice".

This is a case of ethical trade in action. “Ethical trade” is an umbrella term for all types of business practices that promote more socially and/or environmentally responsible trade.

Tesco is a member of the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative). Founded in 1998, the ETI aims to improve working conditions within a retailer's suppliers, through guidelines which members must incorporate into their codes of conduct. But the code is voluntary and members can be suspended or expelled only for non-compliance.

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