Socialist Worker

Why Tesco profits are rotten to the core

Supermarket profits are based on harsh conditions for workers both in supplier countries and Britain, as ActionAid’s Paul Collins shows

Issue No. 1948

Corporate muscle: campaigners took on Tesco last week (Pic: Jess Hurd/

Corporate muscle: campaigners took on Tesco last week (Pic: Jess Hurd/reportdigital/ActionAid)

Tesco announced record profits of over £2 billion last week, but that “success” is built on dreadful conditions of workers who supply their goods.

ActionAid has released new research exposing the lives of thousands of women workers in South Africa who grow fruit that ends up on Tesco’s shelves.

“When you pick up that perfect apple from the supermarket shelf you do not see its rotten core,” says Ruchi Tripathi, head of ActionAid’s food rights campaign.

“To make the biggest profits possible, retailers force farm owners to accept less and less for their crops.

“The farmers cut costs by lowering their workers wages and working conditions. This is not about a boycott. Without tough laws to stop corporate abuse, our fruit will continue to have a bitter taste.”

Tesco is Britain’s biggest buyer of South African fruit. Despite the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility ActionAid found unacceptable conditions among the temporary labourers interviewed on Tesco accredited farms.

Working with a local South African advocacy group, Women on Farms, ActionAid has investigated the conditions of women working on Tesco accredited farms in the Western Cape of South Africa. The research revealed that the women receive poverty wages.

“I get 378 Rand [£32.50] pay every two weeks. I can’t afford school fees for my daughter, or to go to school functions, or to buy school uniforms,” says Tawana Fraser, who works as a “permanent casual” labourer on a pear farm that supplies Tesco.

The minimum wage in South Africa for two weeks’ work should be £36.

“They spray pesticides while the women are working in the orchards,” says Tawana Fraser. “We have no gloves or protective clothing and we have to climb wet ladders and pick pears from the trees while they’re still wet from pesticides.”

She says that spraying normally happens twice a week and that nobody on the farm wears protective clothing.

“I sleep on the floor on a plastic sheet. There’s no water or electricity and the walls of my shack are made of cardboard,” says Gloria Nzama, who finds work intermittently on Tesco accredited farms.

The trend towards more casual employment, in part a result of supermarket buying practices, is seeing thousands of casual workers living in dismal housing conditions in compounds, shanty towns and informal settlements.

Over 104,000 workers are employed permanently on around 3,000 fruit farms in South Africa. Tens of thousands of women are now increasingly employed as a “reserve army” of part-time labourers to do contract and informal work to pick and pack the fruit for export.

South Africa supplies most of its deciduous fruit (apples, pears, plums and peaches) to Europe.

“The women who work on South Africa’s farms are at the bottom of the pile as far as workers’ rights are concerned,” says Quinton Mageza, ActionAid’s South Africa coordinator.

“Despite the existence of labour laws and voluntary codes of conduct, these women are still subjected to a life of unimaginable indignity.”

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Sat 23 Apr 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1948
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