Tesco’s nightmare before Christmas?

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It’s not very often that a sourcing and procurement story will hit national headlines, but many of you will have read on Sunday the case of the 6-year old girl writing her charity Christmas cards from Tesco and discovering a note that was alleged to have said “Please Help Us.”

The Sunday Times report, which alleged that the girl found a message written inside a card saying it had been packed by foreign prisoners who were the victims of forced labour, saw Tesco issue a statement in response.

It’s worth running that statement in full:

“We abhor the use of prison labour and would never allow it in our supply chain.

“We were shocked by these allegations and immediately suspended the factory where these cards are produced and launched an investigation. We have also withdrawn these cards from sale whilst we investigate.

“We have a comprehensive auditing system in place and this supplier was independently audited as recently as last month and no evidence was found to suggest they had broken our rule banning the use of prison labour. If a supplier breaches these rules, we will immediately and permanently de-list them.”

The supplier has been named in some reports but has denied the claims against it. It has also claimed that the allegations are politically motivated.

Since publication the story has received blanket coverage from media outlets around the world, from CNN to the BBC to the South China Morning Post. Hardly the kind of media coverage Tesco would appreciate in the run up to Christmas, but that is the least of its worries and it has taken swift action.

For Tesco to take such action against a supplier is a major action. And it will be fascinating to follow the progress of its investigation, as I am sure that shareholders and consumers alike will want to know the outcome.

It’s worth pointing to Tesco’s human rights due diligence, freely available in its Modern Slavery Statement on its website, that demonstrate how rigorous the retailer is when it comes to sourcing suppliers in its supply chain.

It states that it has 45 dedicated responsible sourcing specialists, based across nine key sourcing countries, which it says are well-placed to gather on-the ground intelligence through direct engagement with suppliers and other relevant stakeholders. This, it says, includes capturing the views of workers through interviews and surveys.

It says that Tesco does not have on the-ground capacity, but engage a range of experienced stakeholders, including consultants and NGOs, who are supported by its commercial buying and quality teams.

Tesco says it uses the information gathered to continually reassess and respond to the potential and actual risks in its business and supply chains.

All commercial organisations, which carry out all or part of a business in the UK, which supply goods or services and with a specified turnover (presently £36 million or more) have to publish a statement on what steps, if any, they have taken to address modern slavery in their supply chains under section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

All supply chain professionals should remember that the UK government has committed to strengthening section 54 (transparency in supply chains requirements) of the Modern Slavery Act, and the findings of a consultation that ran between July and September on proposed changes will be published next year. It should make for fascinating reading.

Merry Christmas to you all and see you in 2020.

Christopher Walton, Editor, Logistics Manager

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