The group of migrant workers at the VK Garments Factory in Mae Sot, Thailand, claim they were paid just GBP4 (US$4.85) a day, working seven days a week, “trapped in a cycle of forced labour and debt bondage”.

The lawsuit, which has been issued in the High Court of London by UK law firm Leigh Day, is the first step in legal proceedings against Tesco and auditing company Intertek.

The adult workers are all Burmese migrants who had fled war or left Myanmar in the hope of finding safety and work in Thailand. They all worked at the VK Garments factory between 2017 and 2020 in various roles including cutting, tailoring, and packing.

Specifically, the workers are bringing a legal claim against Tesco Plc; Ek-Chai Distribution System Company Limited (owned by Tesco Plc until 2020); and the UK headquartered auditing companies Intertek Group Plc and Intertek Testing Services (Thailand) Limited, which inspected and certified VK Garments’ working conditions and practices and Tesco’s F&F products.

In their legal case, the workers claim bosses controlled their worker permissions and housed them in “pitiful conditions” where they lived in tiny dormitories and slept on cement floors with little or no privacy. At the factory, it is alleged that pressure to fulfil large orders for Tesco F&F suppliers was so intense the workers were often unable to take breaks to eat, drink or go to the toilet, sometimes working through the night in conditions that were “hazardous, unventilated and overcrowded”.

According to the lawsuit, the workers were on shift from 8am to 11pm Monday to Saturday, and on Sundays were permitted to finish work at 5pm unless orders meant they had to work longer. They were given one day off a month, with no holidays, working in high temperatures without ventilation, PPE, training, or clean water.

Leigh Day says many of the workers suffered personal injuries as a result of the working conditions and practices, and that despite working excessively long hours, were paid significantly lower than minimum wage. Under Thai law the workers should have been paid GBP7 for eight hours’ work, plus GBP1.34 an hour overtime, plus holiday rest and severance pay. Charges for rent and immigration documents were also deducted from wages.

The workers say they were unable to raise concerns with the factory, or to express objections to the dangerous and unsanitary living and working conditions, due to the fear they would be blacklisted and/or subjected to financial penalties for doing so, or through fear of losing their job.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData
Visit our Privacy Policy for more information about our services, how we may use, process and share your personal data, including information of your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.

“The alleged treatment of vulnerable migrant workers in the way they have described to us is totally contrary to the ethical image that Tesco seeks to portray in the UK – a company of this size should be taking steps to ensure that workers producing their products are not mistreated,” says Oliver Holland, partner at Leigh Day. “The social auditing industry is seriously broken and the garment industry’s reliance on social auditors like Intertek should end now and they should start to take greater responsibility for their supply chains to ensure endemic issues like forced labour are wiped out.”

Leigh Day says Tesco lawyers have responded to state that it does not accept that the legal letter discloses any arguable claims against Tesco and does not accept that the claims should be brought in England. It says that under Thai law Tesco was not duty-bound to protect the claimants in relation to alleged negligence.
Intertek Plc denies any liability on the basis they have no contractual relationship with Ex-Chai, VK Garments or the claimants and that Intertek Thailand conducted audits under industry standards and by auditors pre-approved by Tesco.
Ex-Chai, Tesco’s Thai subsidiary until 2020, also denies liability primarily on the basis that they had no involvement in the employment conditions at VK Garments, according to Leigh Day.
The law firm adds that, despite both Tesco and Intertek conducting audits at the factory, “the unlawful activities that are reported to have been taking place were not identified and/or not reported and/or not properly remediated and this contributed to or caused the workers injuries”.
Tesco had operations in Thailand from 1998 to 2020. The business generated GBP50bn revenue, and GBP1-2bn in profit each year between 2015 and 2020. The F&F clothing business is worth GBP1.7bn and the workers claim that a significant proportion of its profits are likely to be attributable to the low operating costs and use of cheap and/or free labour at the Mae Sot factory in Thailand.
The legal case further asserts that Tesco consistently sourced F&F clothing from the factory from 2017 to 2020 and was aware of the origin of the clothing and was also aware, or ought reasonably to have been aware, of the unlawful housing conditions and factory working conditions and practices.
Leigh Day says it has asked Tesco and Intertek to settle the workers’ claim. If this does not occur the workers will consider progressing the matter in the High Court.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “Protecting the rights of everyone working in our supply chain is absolutely essential to how we do business. In order to uphold our stringent human rights standards, we have a robust auditing process in place across our supply chain and the communities where we operate. Any risk of human rights abuses is completely unacceptable, but on the very rare occasions where they are identified, we take great care to ensure they are dealt with appropriately, and that workers have their human rights and freedoms respected. 

“The allegations highlighted in this report are incredibly serious, and had we identified issues like this at the time they took place, we would have ended our relationship with this supplier immediately. We understand the Thai Labour Court has awarded compensation to those involved, and we would continue to urge the supplier to reimburse employees for any wages they’re owed.”

A spokesperson for Intertek told Just Style: “As a responsible business, we take the matters that have been raised very seriously. We also note these matters are currently the subject of Thai and English legal proceedings, and therefore we are not able to comment while these proceedings are ongoing.”