The news broke about Florence Widdicombe, the 6 year old from Tooting, south London, who opened a box of Tesco charity Christmas cards to find a note inside:
“We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison (China)
Forced to work against our will.
Please help us and notify human rights organization.
Contact Peter Humphrey (former prisoner and journalist) ”
The details of the story are all over the news. Tesco has suspended its supply contract. But this is the third time in so many years that Tesco has been suspected of engaging in supply contracts where forced labour forms a part of the supply chain.
Tesco will tell us that they, like all other multi-national and global supply companies, regularly inspect the factories that supply their goods in China. But anyone who knows China and the business world there can tell you that the facilities the foreigners are permitted to inspect are the model factories. Even there the staff who work 14 hour days are warned to tell the foreign auditors that they work 8 hour days if they are asked.
We, as consumers, are trusting the global corporations to carry out these audits properly. We do not want to confront the ugly reality that our goods are manufactured by slaves, forced prison labour, child labour and highly exploited workers.
The global corporations are breaching their contract with the consumer, because they are under pressure to deliver shareholder value. If the “markets” take a dim view of the company they will downgrade the investment rating and the corporation will lose money.
The billionaires who own the shares in the corporations will shift their shareholdings to less scrupulous companies, who will turn a blind eye to slavery, and will win consumers with low prices.
I can boycott Tesco this Christmas, but what do I achieve? If I take my money to another supermarket, or even to a local store, how do I know that I am not funding slavery somewhere in the supply chain? I might even be penalising a company that does its very best to clean up the supply chain in favour of a company that does not even attempt to identify the links in their chain.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries boycotts of slave produced sugar succeeded in ending slavery on sugar plantations. The campaigns were driven not by governments, not by the billionaires, but by ordinary people, small people who fought to make a difference. We need to recapture that personal focus on consumption. Our daily consumption decisions can make the world a better place for millions of people, or they can make the lives of those people a misery.
How are you spending your money this Christmas? In your wallet, measured in dollars and cents, you hold the power to change the world for the better. Spend wisely.