“We just want to live a life of dignity.””

"Tesco should ensure that we have enough to live on. We are not asking for
luxuries, just to be able to live without borrowing, and to respect the rights
of women because we really work hard, they must give us what we deserve,"
Gertruida Baartman yesterday.


Fruit picker tells of her suffering since shaming

Wray and Tim Shepherd-Smith
Friday June 29, 2007
The Guardian

The world that Gertruida Baartman inhabits could not
be further removed from the cosy chats with Gordon Brown and photocalls with
Premiership footballers enjoyed by Sir Terry Leahy.

As a fruit picker in South Africa she is at the bottom of Tesco’s lengthy
supply chain. While those at the top of the business are trying to persuade
shareholders that Sir Terry should receive an extra £11m if its foray into the
US succeeds, the 39-year-old single mother of three often does not have enough
money to feed her children, let alone afford the prices that Tesco charges UK
consumers for the fruit she picks.But the worlds of poverty and plenty will collide today as Ms Baartman returns
to the company’s annual meeting, thanks to ActionAid, to plead with the board to
pay her and her co-workers a living wage.

"Tesco should ensure that we have enough to live on. We are not asking for
luxuries, just to be able to live without borrowing, and to respect the rights
of women because we really work hard, they must give us what we deserve," she
said yesterday.

The farm where she works supplies one of South Africa’s largest fruit
exporters, Capespan, which last year saw a 122% increase in profits after tax.

She attended last year’s Tesco annual meeting, bringing the reality of
working for the supermarket’s suppliers in the developing world to its corporate
homeland. The company’s chairman, David Reid, promised to take heed of her
plight and there have been some changes at her farm, especially after Tesco
visited in May. In the past, fruit pickers were forced back into the orchards
immediately after the crops had been sprayed with pesticides, meaning that
workers were often handling fruit that was still wet with dangerous chemicals.

That practice has, at least, ended on Ms Baartman’s farm and she is in no
doubt why that happened. "On our farm things did change but all the other farms
basically remain the same. It changed on my farm because the spotlight and the
media have been on me."

But the supermarket’s promise that her appearance last year would not lead to
recriminations rang hollow when her boss – whom the workers call "master" –
refused to re-hire her for the next season. "I lost my job and my union had to
fight with the farmer to get my job back," she said.

There have been other unwelcome changes: "In the past the farmer provided
transport for my brother, who is in a wheelchair, when he needed to go to the
doctor or the clinic. But when I spoke out they refused to help and now my
father has to help me pay for [transport]."

Ms Baartman earns about 30p an hour under the government’s minimum wage
scheme. "It may be what the law says is a minimum wage but it is not something
you can live on," she said. "I can’t feed my children properly or take them to
the doctor when they are ill and I can’t take care of myself even though I am
the one who has to work for the money."

She augments her meagre salary with her parents’ state pensions which do not
go very far and she often has to borrow from friends and neighbours. When she
gets paid, much of that money goes to paying off debt.

"But often the money is not enough and when I have to walk past someone I owe
money to, I cannot look them in the face," she admitted.

Under the Ethical Trading Initiative, which Tesco has signed up to, the
supermarket is supposed to ensure that "living wages are paid" and "wages should
always be enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income".

Last year a review of the ETI carried out by Sussex University concluded that
"in general, codes had had almost no impact in terms of ensuring workers receive
a living wage".

At today’s meeting, Tesco shareholders will be asked to support a resolution
demanding that Tesco takes measures – to be independently audited – to ensure
that workers "are guaranteed decent working conditions, a living wage, job
security, freedom of association and of collective bargaining including … the
right to join a trade union of their choice".

The resolution has been put on the table by Ben Birnberg, a retired solicitor
and company secretary at War on Want. Tesco initially tried to block the
resolution but Mr Birnberg attracted enough shareholders to back his plan. He
also has the support of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which has just under 1
million shares in Tesco.

"This is as much in the interest of Tesco and its shareholders as it is in
the interests of the poor workers who are exploited," he said yesterday. "In the
annual review the company says it prides itself on sharing its success with its
UK workers, why not share the success beyond these shores?"

Ethical trading

Tesco is a member of the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative). Founded in
1998, the ETI aims to improve working conditions within a retailer’s suppliers,
through guidelines which members must incorporate into their codes of
. But the code is voluntary – members can be suspended or expelled
only for non-compliance – and the ETI has been criticised as ineffective.
Last year a report by Sussex University showed that, despite some improvements
in health and safety and the ending of child labour, the ETI has brought
little overall change. An ETI spokeswoman said: "We may not have been aware how
serious the problems were."


Tesco rocked by shareholders’ revolt

· Workers in poor countries
exploited, say investors
· Chief executive’s pay package under

Saturday June 30, 2007

Tesco faced an unprecedented revolt yesterday over
the meagre wages it pays workers in the developing world to supply its
supermarkets with everything from cheap clothing to fruit.

Shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in London also voiced their
anger at a controversial new pay scheme for the chief executive, Sir Terry
Leahy, which could see him pocket more than £11m if Tesco’s expansion into the
US market succeeds. More than one in six shareholders refused to back Sir
Terry’s new pay scheme, while almost 20% of shareholders refused to reject a
resolution calling for Tesco to pay workers in the developing world a "living

The latter resolution was tabled by Ben Birnberg, a retired solicitor and
company secretary at War on Want. The Tesco board called on shareholders to
reject it saying that the company is already taking steps to ensure its
suppliers treat workers properly.

But Mr Birnberg told the meeting that "the irony of the board recommending
that shareholders vote against our resolution to increase the meagre pay of its
outsourced workers … whilst at the same time provocatively recommending that
shareholders vote for incentive plans which will augment the already absurdly
generous remuneration packages for its top executives … may be lost on the
board but it is certainly not lost on this shareholder or the public at large".

He added: "There is nothing that lowers a company more in the estimation of
right thinking people … than a public display of executive greed in an
affluent world going hand in hand with a public display of corporate miserliness
and indifference towards those at the bottom in an impoverished world who
contribute so munificently to our corporate wealth. Let Tesco, as the market
leader, steal a march on its competitors and blaze an ethical trail."

He was supported by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, with just under a million
shares, while the CIS, which has £25bn under management and is a significant
shareholder in Tesco, was among those who abstained on the vote. To applause,
the meeting was addressed by Gertruida Baartman, a South African fruit picker
whose farm supplies Tesco through exporter Capespan. She attended the meeting
last year to speak up for the plight of agricultural workers, but said
yesterday: "I have decided to come here again because little has changed in our
lives. Our children still go hungry … we don’t want to beg and borrow to stay
alive. We are asking Tesco to give us what we deserve. We just want to live a
life of dignity."

Tesco chairman David Reid said he had met Ms Baartman, who was brought to the
UK by Action Aid, and representatives of her union. He said the company would
expand its ethical audit of South African farms.

The meeting, which ran for more than three hours, was also addressed by a
Bangladeshi textile worker who said workers there are not being paid "a living
wage". One small shareholder recommended that Mr Reid spend six months working
in a Bangladeshi textile mill and surviving on local wages and then try working
on a South African fruit farm. "If everything’s fine, you’ll have a great time
and come back with a tan," he said. "If not, you’ll be thinner and a lot more
understanding of the plight of these poor people."

There were several jibes about executive pay. In the end, 8.75% of
shareholders refused to back the company’s remuneration policy while 17.71%
refused to back Sir Terry’s special US bonus.

This entry was posted in News and politics. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s