Monday, 7 November 2005

Catch me if you can

Earlier this year, the charity ActionAid found that South African women labourers who grow fruit sold in Tesco had to put up with poor wages and unacceptable working conditions.

Of course Tesco deserve to be slapped for that. We all want cheaper food, but not at other people's expense, surely.

However, something else bothers me: a representative of Tesco was interviewed the other day on You & Yours, on Radio 4. He was asked why all the points raised by ActionAid had never come to the attention of Tesco before. His answer was that he deplored it, of course, but they had inspected those farms and found nothing untoward. Asked whether Tesco did those inspections unannounced, he said, “No, we usually tell the farmers that we’re coming.” Duh!

How can they be expected to have a clear picture of the situation if they warn the owners of those farms they’re coming to inspect their premises and the workers’ quarters, etc.? Also, is anyone working there likely to tell the truth about how little they earn (not even the South African minimum wage) if their employer’s standing next to them while they’re being interviewed? It’s preposterous. It’s criminal. And it’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened.

On 23 June 1944, two Swiss delegates of the International Red Cross and two representatives of the Danish government visited the Theresienstadt ghetto. As soon as they’d announced their visit – six months earlier, the Nazis had undertaken a huge programme of “beautification”, which involved turning the place into a fake Jewish town, complete with bank, café and other shops. And guess what, the Red Cross liked what they saw and gave them a glowing report. (You can read a concise account of the background to that visit here) They visited it again on 6 April 1945 and again were happy with what they saw.

The Red Cross also visited Auschwitz, again not unannounced, and this time failed to notice that the shower rooms were in fact gas chambers. According to them, everything was hunky-dory. There are no words….

So, to all those so-called inspectors: the ones who announce their arrival with a fanfare, and then avert their eyes and choose not to see – SLAP!


  1. You're a woman after my own heart!

    Good slap! Bravo.

  2. School inspections too - does anyone else remember being rehearsed for weeks beforehand so that the 'random' lesson went like clockwork? The minute we saw the inspector sitting at the back, we switched into the rehearsed lesson. Not as bad, obviously, but I always thought it was mad.

    I can't help feeling that people get fooled when they want to be - when getting fooled leads to an easier path. I do it in my work as an editor - when noticing a query or inconsistency looks like giving me half a day's extra work, I rationalise why it doesn't matter that much to the readers of the book I'm working on.

  3. how bloody ridiculous

    i shall add this to my ever-growing list of: why i hate tesco's and try my bestest never to shop there (i resent the idea that they get every pound in eight spent in this country - it's economically unhealthy, apart from anything else)


  4. Thanks, TLP; it means a lot, coming from you. :-)

    L, it’s funny I was going to mention school inspections and how we, in France, only had about half an hour’s notice before they happened. I remember my teachers being very scared: they used to go rather pale and shaky. I also remember feeling a sense of responsibility: all of us bonnes élèves were called upon to shine and make the teachers look good. It was nerve-racking and played a big part in my decision not to become a teacher myself.

    Do you really do that? Laziness, is it? LOL!

    UC, I would choose not to shop at Tesco if I had a choice, but it’s more or less the only supermarket around here.

  5. bela: sometimes (regrettably) shopping at the evil empire is unavoidable



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