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Tesco and Sainsbury’s accused of migrant worker abuse

Sainsbury`s supermarket logo sign above the main entrance

Tesco and Sainsbury’s are named among other major supermarkets found to be abusing migrant workers in the UK.

Data from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) shows 56 percent of recorded abuses against migrant workers in the UK occurred in supermarket environments.

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It includes incidents on shop floors, agriculture, fishing, processing, and packaging. 

The data was recorded between December 1, 2022, and November 30, 2023.

It identified ten supermarket chains explicitly linked to abuse in the past year.

They are: Tesco, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Aldi, Asda, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, and SPAR. 

Cases included instances of racism, wage theft, and threats of unfair dismissal.

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BHRRC said supermarkets at the top of supply chains must conduct robust human rights.

This includes due diligence to identify, mitigate, and address risks to their migrant workforce. 

The agency notes government failures to protect human rights and consistent reports of worker abuse.

Exploitation was most reported on agriculture and livestock farms.

"It is high time businesses recognise the consequence of their inaction and lack of safeguards"

However, the actual scope and scale of abuse may be much higher.

This is due to limited access to remedy and grievance mechanisms for migrant workers.

Workers also fear reprisals which makes them hesitant to speak up.

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BHRRC senior migrant rights researcher Isobel Archer said: “Supermarkets must realise it’s simply not enough to publish general labour rights policies.

"They need to recognise specific vulnerabilities for UK-bound farmworkers and fishers and urgently respond to them by adopting tailored and migrant worker-centric risk assessment, due diligence and remedy processes.”

Archer added: “It is high time businesses recognise the consequence of their inaction and lack of safeguards – and they must believe workers.

A Tesco spokesperson told The Guardian: “Protecting human rights in our supply chains is central to how we do business – any form of human rights abuse is unacceptable, and we expect all our suppliers to respect the rights of workers and the communities in which they operate.

"As a responsible business, and to ensure transparency, we publish an annual Modern Slavery Statement, alongside the action we and our suppliers have taken to ensure workers’ rights are protected.”

“There is still some way to go if they want to be credited with taking their human rights responsibilities seriously.”

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