10 May 2007 | Antony Barton
Sainsbury's has been forced to defend itself against claims of unethical sourcing, after a UK campaign group attacked it for selling a hugely popular designer bag made in China.
Labour Behind the Label (LBL), whose member organisations include Oxfam and Unison, claims the supermarket chain's "I'm Not A Plastic Bag" product is neither "green" nor ethical.
Sam Maher, a campaigner for LBL, told SM
: "Nothing that is made in China can be called ethical until workers have the right to organise labour. Sainsbury's marketing was all about promoting an ethical consumerism and it made a lot of mileage out of that."
She said firms sourcing from China must use their influence to demand workers' rights and should not look to expand their supply chain in the country until these have been achieved.
LBL, which supports garment workers' efforts to improve working conditions, wants companies to remain in China for the sake of employees' jobs. But it says Sainsbury's should make more effort to implement the code of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) throughout its supply chain.
In response, Sainsbury's said the company was "absolutely committed to sourcing with integrity" and took the matter seriously at every stage in its production process.
A spokesman said: "The bags were not manufactured with 'cheap' labour, nor were local workers exploited. The factory pays almost double the Chinese minimum wage for that province, and complies with all aspects of Chinese labour law."
He did not give further details of the supplier but said it worked with a consultant to ensure the factory complied with human rights issues.
ETI director Dan Rees confirmed Sainsbury's commitment to improving conditions in its supply chain. He told SM it was impossible for global-sourcing companies to ignore China: "What's important to us is that companies that do source from China make sure they use their buying power to make a change for the better."
War on Want, a workers' rights organisation, said it was "meaningless" for Sainsbury's to boast about its pay for Chinese workers. A campaigner said: "A lot of supermarkets say they pay their workers in these countries at least minimum wage but the minimum wage is awful and doesn't equate to a proper living wage."