Tesco unearths migrant worker abuse in Malaysia and Thailand outlets

Tesco has uncovered abuses against migrant workers at its stores distribution centres and retail outlets in Malaysia and Thailand following an assessment by independent human rights consultancy Impactt in September last year.  According to Tesco's modern slavery statement 2019/2020, the company said passports of 239 workers - 68 Indonesian and 171 Nepali - were found to be withheld by a site in Malaysia.

"All passports were returned to workers and new policies and procedures introduced for when passports are required for work permit renewal or other government purposes," Tesco said. Additionally, the assessment by Impactt with 168 migrant workers in Malaysia found several serious allegations, including cases of passport retention, unexplained and illegal wage reductions, heavy indebtedness to labour brokers in home country, excessive overtime. In response to the findings, Tesco said in the modern slavery statement that a comprehensive action plan has been developed by Tesco Malaysia, Tesco Group Responsible Sourcing and external human rights experts.

These include creation of an accessible support line and grievance mechanism for agency workers, training on diversity and inclusion for mangers, review and improvement of accommodation and worker welfare audits, and full remediation including the repayment of recruitment fees.

Meanwhile, findings in Thailand drawn from interviews with 187 migrant workers unearthed unexplained and illegal wage reductions, indebtedness through excessive recruitment though at lower levels than in Malaysia, excessive overtime. Additionally, the assessment found that 15 passports and 25 to 30 work permits were held by a supplier in Thailand. "Following engagement with the site, all necessary documents were returned and a document retention policy and revised permit renewal process is now in place. There is also ongoing engagement with workers through the independent Issara migrant worker helpline," Tesco said. 

In March, the British grocery chain sold its business in Malaysia and Thailand to Charoen Pokphand Group for US$10.6 billion to "further simplify and focus the business", chief executive Dave Lewis said, as well as return to significant value to shareholders. The move came after the group began reviewing its businesses in these two markets in December 2019. CP Group operates across many industries ranging from industrial to service sectors.

Tesco began operations in Malaysia in 2002 under the name Tesco Malaysia, as part of a joint venture with Sime Darby. According to Tesco, its Malaysia operations generated about US$1.04 billion during the financial year ended 23 February 2019, and operates a network of 68 stores nationwide. Shortly after the announcement in March, Sime Darby said in April that it was selling 30% of its stakes in Tesco Stores for RM300 million to Thailand's C.P Retail Development Company.

The brand currently works with Mindshare, IDOTYOU and Mindmade in Malaysia. For Chinese New Year, it rolled out an integrated advertising campaign involving 21 commercials with relatable and funny storylines.

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