Tesco is facing a lawsuit by 130 former workers at VK Garment Factory (VKG) in Thailand, who produced jeans, denim jackets and other clothing for Tesco’s F&F brand between 2017 and 2020. This is believed to be the first time a UK company has faced litigation in the English courts over a foreign garment factory that it does not own. The workers are suing Tesco for alleged negligence and unjust enrichment. They reported being trapped in effectively forced labour, working 99-hour weeks for low pay in appalling conditions. After the Guardian conducted an investigation into the workers’ allegations, they learnt that they were paid approximately £3 a day to work from 8 am to 11 pm, which was significantly less than the Thai minimum wage (£7). Furthermore, the Guardian learnt that accommodation at the factory was overcrowded, and workers slept on cement floors with little privacy due to no locks, walls, or ceilings.
Tesco insists that protecting the rights of every worker in its supply chain is paramount, and if it had identified the serious issues at VKG, it would have ended its relationship with them. However, when Tesco did its own initial inspection of the factory, it identified areas of non-compliance but chose to ignore the red flags. Ultimately, the workers hope to hold Tesco accountable for failing to protect them.
Many large clothing brands like F&F are known to outsource the production of clothes and the auditing of factories to avoid liability and damages to their reputation. This helps clothing brands to keep their prices cheap whilst protecting their profits. It is believed that the F&F garments made by the workers in Thailand were sold on the Thai market and also in England. This means that the profits from sales in Thailand went back to the UK.
Leigh Day is the law firm working on this matter and representing the factory workers at VKG. The firm aims to challenge the outsourcing structure, which has been used to make Tesco vast profits and exploit factory workers under terrible conditions. The claim has been brought to the high court, and we should expect it to be served in the new year.