Tesco hit by ethical report

02 November 2006

A REPORT by the Church of England is critical of some of Britain’s supermarkets. The C of E has significant funds invested in supermarkets, the bulk of its £60-million holding in the food retail sector.

The Church Commissioners’ ethical-investment advisory group has just published a summary document on the social, ethical, and environmental issues that the actions of the supermarkets raise. It states that the knock-on social effects of supermarkets "include the fragmentation of communities and ancillary services . . ."

The report says that "the Competition Commission found evidence of practices which bordered on the exploitative, but stopped short of condemning the industry for the way in which it treated suppliers."

The report names names. "Sainsbury has been the sector leader for many years, specifically in terms of environmental management and impact reduction, with Tesco some way behind in projecting a coherent joined-up vision of corporate social responsibility, although this is changing."

It goes on: "If Tesco can make a profit on jeans selling at £4 a pair, those who cut, stitch, and prepare the jeans for sale in China and South East Asia must enjoy livelihoods at the extreme margin of economic sustainability."

The Revd Eric Kyte, rural officer for Bradford diocese, said: "Tesco is the biggest player, and has therefore got more purchasing power. When you have a lot of power, sometimes you become like an elephant: you don’t notice if a mouse gets crushed under your foot."

The report is also critical of Sunday trading: it suggests that "shop-opening demographics have gently eroded protection of Sunday and public-holiday working."

Jonathan Church, Tesco’s media director, on Tuesday defended his company’s ethical policy: "A lot of ethical-investment funds have Tesco in their portfolio. We have a very clear corporate-responsibility strategy, which is embedded in our business, and benefits customers, suppliers, staff, and shareholders."

He said that Tesco was one of the founder members of the Ethical Trading Initiative ( Features, 20 January).

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