back to school uniform

UK supermarkets source clothes like school uniforms from Bangladeshi suppliers

Aldi and Asda are among a handful of British supermarkets accused of exploiting Bangladeshi garment workers, in a report out this week. 

The study surveyed 1,000 Bangladeshi factories making clothing for global brands and retailers, concluding that many suppliers were paid less than the cost of production during the pandemic.

Tesco and Lidl were also named, in the report by the University of Aberdeen.

British supermarkets in particular were called out for holding “double standards”. While they were accountable for treating their food suppliers fairly in line with the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP), they failed to apply the same practices to their clothing manufacturers, claimed Fiona Gooch, senior policy adviser at Transform Trade, a trade justice charity involved in the report.

“Thanks to the supermarket watchdog, they largely pay their food suppliers promptly and fairly. But this research shows that they’re not doing the same when it comes to their clothes suppliers,” Gooch said. 

“It’s high time for a sister regulator to be established, with the same impact that the GCA has had on reducing abusive purchasing practices.”

Unfair practices including failure to pay, cancellations, delays in payment, discount demands, and failure to raise rates in line with rising costs, were found at more than half the factories, according to the research.

In the latest GSCOP survey, Aldi took the top spot in the table based on suppliers’ views of its code compliance, with a score of 98%. Yet the University of Aberdeen’s survey showed that of the 38 Bangladeshi factories it sourced from in 2020, almost half claimed their payments were delayed for more than three months after dispatch. 

Aldi argued that the report failed to differentiate between factories that supplied Aldi Süd – which includes the UK operations – and Aldi Nord, a sister business with different supply chains.

Aldi Süd was one of the first businesses to sign the new International Accord, which aims to make textile factories in Bangladesh safer, and is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative.

Lidl responded to the report by saying it took ”its responsibility towards workers in Bangladesh, and other countries where our suppliers produce, very seriously and is committed to ensuring that core social standards are complied with throughout the supply chain”.

An Asda spokesman said: “We have long-standing positive relationships with our suppliers in Bangladesh and we are in regular contact to ensure that we continue to source our goods responsibly according to our standards and policies.”

Supermarkets’ unregulated supply chains have been under increasing scrutiny lately. In a recent landmark case, Tesco too was taken to UK courts by Thai workers over alleged labour exploitation.

Tesco said in response to the report: “We are committed to fair and transparent partnerships throughout our supply chain, and we worked closely with our clothing suppliers to support them through the challenges of the pandemic.

“To ensure that they could continue to pay their workers fairly, we did not cancel any orders, did not penalise late deliveries, and honoured our payment terms in full.”