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!