Obscene behaviour by supermarkets

Pleased today that the Guardian – who called me yesterday – have the story online about exploitation by some of our big supermarkets who pay a pittance to people overseas. Good story by them – here is part of what they say:

The call came after the Guardian reported allegations by workers at factories in Bangladesh supplying Asda, Primark and Tesco that they worked up to 80 hours per week for as little as 4p an hour. They also reported abuse by supervisors, and sackings for taking sick leave.

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat international development spokeswoman, said legislation should guarantee that pay and conditions of overseas workers met international standards: “It’s obscene that [UK shoppers] can earn more through their club card points than the people who produce the goods they are buying.” She was setting up meetings with supermarkets and other large employers of overseas workers to talk about their corporate responsibilities.

0 thoughts on “Obscene behaviour by supermarkets

  1. As a British Bangladeshi, I CAN clearly state from my own visits back home that children, as young as five, are forced into child labour. It is terrible. It is not only the adults’ in Bangladesh earning pees….. it is children who are forced to work as a way and means of survival.Mash

  2. In 1900, a British farm labourer (such as my great grandfather was) earned an average of 75p/week. (That’s 14s 10d in old money.) I gather that’s a bit less than a penny an hour. Such comparisons are misleading. If you don’t explain how the cost of living in Bangladesh is different too, you run the risk of deceiving people.You need to think carefully about why people would choose to work in such circumstances. Why don’t they work for local businesses and get paid more? (Or set up their own?) One possibility of course is that all the alternatives pay even less, or have even worse conditions. I have heard tales of one shoe manufacturer pressured into shutting down its Asian sweatshops – resulting in the former employees (including children) being forced into prostitution and similar unsavoury jobs. Considered in context does this trade with foreign supermarkets offer an overall improvement or reduction in opportunities and standards for the local people? Best to find out before interfering, eh?The other thing to think about is what would actually happen if the supermarkets paid artificially above the market value? First, it would distort the local market – why produce food for local people when you can make ten times as much selling it abroad? Indeed, why produce anything for local sale? Other local businesses couldn’t withstand the competition, and would lose workers rapidly. Any local money invested in those businesses would be lost, and the economy would soon become utterly addicted to the foreign trade.(It’s also pretty unlikely the workers themselves would see very much of that money – the owners and managers of the factories would take most of it, and the government would tax it.)Second, it commits the fallacy of believing that wealth is a matter of money, when it is actually a matter of the goods and services produced. To take an extreme example – what would happen if we gave everyone in the world a million pounds? Everyone would be rich, right? We could all sit back and relax and live a life of luxury, right?Bangladesh is poor because it doesn’t have the capability to produce very much. It lacks the infrastructure, expertise, legal system, and the interlocking network of industries needed to generate high-value goods/services efficiently. International development is not about somehow handing foreigners a big pile of our wealth. That leads inevitably to disaster. It has to be about teaching them how to generate their own wealth, otherwise the whole enterprise will do more damage than it prevents.Look to Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore for your examples, or indeed the early history of the United States and Britain. How did they do it?