Tesco withdraws Christmas cards from sale after forced labour claims

A factory in China has denied it used forced labour after a six-year-old girl found a message from workers inside a Tesco charity Christmas card.

Tesco halted production at the factory over the message, allegedly written by prisoners claiming they were "forced to work against our will" and launched an on-site investigation at the factory.

A spokesman for the card supplier said: "We only became aware of this when some foreign media contacted us. We have never done such a thing.

The message was found by a schoolgirl who was writing Christmas cards for her friends when she came across one that had already been written in stating:

"We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation." It also urged the reader of the message to contact Peter Humphrey, a former journalist who spent 23 months imprisoned at the same Qingpu prison.

The girl’s father contacted Humphrey who reported the story to a national paper and contacted fellow ex-prisoners, one of whom said that for at least two years inmates in the foreign prisoner unit had been picking designs and then packaging the Tesco cards, sealing the boxes and putting them into shipping cartons. He said they were also involved in packing Tesco gift tags.

Tesco has stated that they have a comprehensive auditing system in place and the supplier involved was independently audited in November 2019 with no evidence found to suggest they had broken the rule laid out in their modern slavery documentation which banned the use of prison labour and stated that if a supplier breaches these rules, they would be de-listed immediately and permanently .

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires all commercial organisations which supply goods or services, carry on their business or part of their business in the UK and which have a total turnover exceeding £36 million in any financial year, to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement setting out the steps they have taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business and in its supply chains. There is however no mandatory legal requirement on what the statement should include and the Act has been criticised for its lack of teeth, with non-compliance currently not punishable by any fine or sanction. The only recourse for the government in the event of non-compliance is to seek an injunction requiring the non-compliant organisation to rectify the breach (ie publish a statement).

In July 2018, the government commissioned a group of MP’s to undertake an independent review of the Act. The review considered specific provisions in the Act: the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, transparency in supply chains, Independent Child Trafficking Advocates and legal application of the Modern Slavery Act.The final review report was submitted to the Home Secretary on 29 March 2019 and was laid in Parliament on 22 May 2019. No formal response has been received probably due to Brexit dominating Parliamentary time but businesses should prepare for this to be an area of particular scrutiny. It is advisable for companies to review the way compliance is managed and use the annual reporting obligation to ensure their statement covers all areas referred to in the guidance.

Posted on: 06/01/2020

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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