Our approach to human rights

Our approach to human rights

Last updated 27/05/2020

Our position

Overall, we believe our trade is a force for good, creating jobs and opportunities for people and communities across the world. But we also want those jobs to be good jobs. It is important that clear standards are upheld on issues such as: working hours, health and safety, no child or forced labour, freedom of association and ensuring that discrimination does not take place. We have a responsibility to respect the human rights of, and an opportunity to make a difference to, our colleagues, our customers, the communities we operate in and the people who work throughout our supply chain.

We recognise that labour rights violations in global supply chains can be systemic. Addressing them requires an understanding of the root causes and collaborating with suppliers, other retailers, trade unions, NGOs, governments and other industry experts. For example, both governments and businesses play an important role to ensure that small-scale producers are resilient and prosperous, can earn a living income, and receive a fair share of the value accumulated in food supply chains. Similarly, the most serious abuses as set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, including forced and child labour, can occur when workers’ rights fail to be protected and when trade unions are absent or weak due to restrictions on their activities.

In some countries, workers can experience in-work poverty even where legal minimum standards are complied with. Furthermore, across many countries women face additional barriers to decent work, due to unequal gender norms and their greater share of unpaid care work. Migrant workers are also particularly vulnerable to some of the worst forms of abuse, especially where they are working in a country illegally and therefore unwilling or unable to turn to legal authorities. We will continue to advocate and work in partnership with governments and other stakeholders to help overcome such systemic challenges within our supply chains.

We are committed to upholding human rights and support in full the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization (ILO) Core Conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining, forced labour, child labour and discrimination at work. We also uphold standards on working hours and health and safety for workers. As founding members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), we have been taking action on these issues since 1998. We support our suppliers to comply with the Base Code of the ETI and seek to use our business for good, helping suppliers to improve, adding our weight to collaborative initiatives, and providing support for communities linked to our supply chain.

How we integrate human rights within our business

Our work on human rights is fully integrated within our operations, forming a key part of our broader strategy for responsibility and sustainability as laid out in the key commitments of our Little Helps Plan. For Tesco UK, our human rights strategy is led by our Responsible Sourcing Director who reports to our Group Quality Director and Chief Product Officer and who are responsible for product sourcing across all Tesco’s retail businesses.

On a day-to-day basis, colleagues in our commercial and technical teams manage supplier and site relationships, and ethical requirements with support from a specialist responsible sourcing team, including dedicated local staff in 9 key sourcing countries. In 2019 we also established a new role within the responsible sourcing team in the UK, which is solely responsible for supporting the integration of responsible sourcing into supplier plans and purchasing practices.

All Tesco UK Buying Managers and Technical Managers are required to attend internal training which covers topics such as responsible sourcing, human rights and modern slavery. Our training is regularly reviewed to ensure it continues to help build colleagues’ knowledge of important topics and awareness of relevant escalation procedures.

With technical teams, the responsible sourcing team develop annual responsible sourcing plans, which identify the priority projects for the year ahead and what specific actions or support is required from technical or commercial colleagues. Projects can apply to both primary supplying sites and raw materials sourcing. Examples of the projects included in the 2020/21 plans are:

  • Launch and monitor the new Responsible Recruitment requirements for suppliers in Thailand and Malaysia*
  • Support the creation of ethical trade forums in Italy and encourage suppliers end to end in the supply chain to join
  • Liaise with suppliers and agree on the next steps following the outcomes of the Human Rights Impact Assessment within the Vietnamese Prawn supply chain.

*Update – The policy (available here) outlining our Responsible Recruitment requirements for primary suppliers and end-to-end Protein and Produce sites in Thailand and Malaysia supplying Tesco UK/ROI was launched in early 2020. To launch the policy we held a webinar, alongside The Institute for Human Rights and Business, to upskill suppliers on Responsible Recruitment and the supporting policy. This ensured they were able to cascade the policy requirements to relevant colleagues and relevant end-to end suppliers.

Responsible sourcing criteria are also integrated into commercial reviews, when new contracts are set and throughout the tender process. Commercial reviews are based on three pillars which are weighted equally: price, quality and service. Responsible sourcing sits within the quality pillar and for priority products a member of the Responsible Sourcing Team will review each supplier and advise on supplier performance from a responsible sourcing perspective. The Responsible Sourcing Director is also required to approve any new supplier or any significant new contacts to ensure that responsible sourcing is considered. The Responsible Sourcing Director can ultimately reject a supplier if there is evidence to suggest they are not committed to responsible sourcing.

A recent example of this was during a review of our frozen fish supply. As a top 20 product, the involvement of our responsible sourcing team was required. A summary of ethical due diligence was required of all suppliers bidding for the contract and this was reviewed by the responsible sourcing team. We also commissioned a specialist human rights consultancy to do an in-depth assessment of labour standards in the sites being proposed for supply. Those suppliers which failed to meet minimum ethical requirements were removed from the commercial review process.

We recognise that improving labour standards in the supply chain is a shared responsibility and in general our view is that the cost of doing business responsibly in any supply base should be integrated wherever possible into the final cost of goods, rather than being an additional ‘bolt-on’. Our new human rights strategy, which is being initially rolled out by Tesco UK, includes a clearer focus on the integration of our human rights agenda into purchasing practices, including tackling any unfair trading practices. We use our human rights due diligence process to help us decide which suppliers to source from and how to reward existing supplier’s performance on human rights.

Following a commercial review process, detailed commercial plans are developed and agreed with suppliers. These are overseen by senior commercial stakeholders and, for strategic suppliers include specific Key Performance Indicators relating to human rights and broader responsible sourcing. KPIs are identified with suppliers and are specific to risks in that supply chain. KPIs can relate to both suppliers’ own operations and/or our shared supply chain. Examples include:

  • Ensuring a responsible sourcing plan has been developed and signed off by the responsible sourcing team at Tesco
  • Number of open critical non-conformances identified through ethical audits
  • Actions and milestones relating to addressing risks of forced labour or modern slavery
  • Assessing gender equality within supply chains and identifying remediable actions
  • Actions and support being provided on worker representation and farmer organisations
  • Assessing the livelihoods of those in supply chains and identifying opportunities to support workers, farmers or communities to prosper.

Our responsible sourcing and technical team members meet regularly with our strategic suppliers to discuss their human rights risks, mitigation approaches and review progress against identified KPIs.

In our F&F business, the development of ‘blue’ factory ratings rewards those who have consistently demonstrated good ethical standards. Eligible factories must have had independent audits and due diligence checks by our human rights experts. We then assess their management systems and support them to develop the correct internal mechanisms and processes to monitor and address human rights issues identified. All blue factories must conduct regular self-assessments and share their reports with us.

The effectiveness of our approach of course depends on us treating suppliers fairly ourselves and building open and trusted relationships. For more information about how we are doing this, please read:

  1. Simplified trade terms for UK suppliers
  2. Simplified trade terms for Central European suppliers
  3. Code of Business Conduct

Our human rights due diligence approach

Our human rights supply chain programme extends to everything we source for our Own Brand including Tesco-exclusive brands, services and goods not for re-sale to customers.

Historically we sought to address human rights issues primarily through an ethical audit programme of our direct supply base. However, this approach was limited, both because audits do not always identify hidden or systemic issues such as modern slavery and because the most serious risks of human rights abuses often tend to occur further down the supply chain where we don’t have direct commercial relationships and our leverage to instigate change is often more limited.

We now have a broader due diligence process to ensure that we are identifying and then focusing our resource in areas of highest risk, wherever this is in the supply chain. The process was developed in consultation with over fifty internal and external stakeholders, including suppliers, multi-stakeholder bodies such as the Ethical Trading Initiative, trade unions, civil society groups such as Unseen and Oxfam and government bodies.

Our due diligence framework has five stages:

  1. Risk assessment
  2. Prioritising and identifying leverage
  3. Mitigating risks
  4. Remediating and grievance mechanisms
  5. Monitoring and communication

More detail of each stage is outlined below.

1.Risk assessment

Our risk assessment framework for Own Brand products looks at five metrics, which have the potential to increase the vulnerability of workers:

  1. Country of origin – assessing the enabling environment of the supply chain
  2. Type of work – assessing whether a role requires a skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled worker
  3. Type of labour – identifying whether a role is permanent, seasonal, or through an agency
  4. Known industry, cultural or community issues – identifying any endemic challenges such as gender discrimination
  5. Supply chain capability – assessing the knowledge and capacity suppliers have to address supply chain risks.

These risk metrics are then mapped end to end in our key supply chains, allowing us to identify the most salient supply chain risks, wherever they occur. To underpin this process, Tesco UK, Republic of Ireland and Central Europe use the country risk ratings from the Food Network of Ethical Trade (FNET) – a collaborative industry platform. The rating is based on a number of sources, including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index, the Modern Slavery Vulnerability and Prevalence Indices compiled by The Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index (GSI), the United States Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Freedom House’s Freedom in the World index and UNICEF and the Global Child Forum’s Children's Rights and Business Atlas. Our risk assessment is reviewed regularly with stakeholders including trade unions, NGOs and suppliers.

2. Prioritising and identifying leverage

Our risk assessment enables us to identify our highest areas of risk and to work out our priorities for the next three to five years. Our new human rights strategy, which was introduced in 2019 and is being initially rolled out by Tesco UK, identifies four priority thematic areas:

  1. Forced labour
  2. How workers are represented in the workplace
  3. Gender; and
  4. Sustainable livelihoods for workers and smallholder farmers.

Further details are provided in each of these thematic areas in the Transform section below.

Direct operations

Direct operations

In our direct operations, our risk assessment process has identified that the greatest risks of forced labour come from service providers such as temporary workers in distribution, office cleaners or carwashes. This is because of the significant proportion of migrant workers in these sectors, in many of the countries we operate in, who may be less aware of their rights and more vulnerable to abuse. It is also because we have less direct visibility over these areas, relative to areas where we directly employ workers.

We have therefore mapped the UK service providers in our offices, retail operations, property, distribution, HR and in specialist services such as IT and car washing. We have then worked to identify the service providers that contain the greatest risks based on their contract type, the level of skill involved in the work, wages and our visibility of the service provider. Professional and specialist service providers on permanent contracts, such as lawyers and IT consultants who operate in high wage sectors, we would consider to be at low risk. In contrast, workers in lower skilled roles on temporary contracts and within lower wage industries would be at higher risk.

Through this process we have identified priority sectors including:

  • Workers in the construction industry who build our stores and carry out renovations
  • Agency labour in our distribution and logistics operations
  • Workers in security for our offices and stores, and cleaning staff
  • Our car wash supplier in the UK who operates the business as a franchise model.

Product supply chains

Product supply chains

In our supply chains, we are prioritising work on our four themes in the countries where Tesco UK’s top 20 products and ingredients are sourced from. The top 20 are those products and ingredients most regularly bought by customers which have the biggest sustainability impact where we have the ability to drive change. Twelve of these ‘Top 20’ have significant and systemic human rights risks associated with them (these risks are most pronounced in the lower tiers of our supply chains) and will therefore be our immediate priorities for the next three to five years:

  • Bananas: livelihoods and worker representation
  • Berries: gender equality (especially in Morocco), livelihoods
  • Citrus fruits: livelihoods and gender equality
  • Coffee: livelihoods and forced labour
  • Cocoa: livelihoods, forced and child labour
  • Cotton: forced and child labour
  • Palm oil: forced labour
  • Prawns: forced labour
  • Rice: livelihoods
  • Sugar: gender equality
  • Tea: livelihoods, gender equality
  • Wild fish: forced labour and worker representation.

Outside of these top 20 products and ingredients, we focus on an additional seven regions and issues because of the known risks associated with them and/or their commercial importance to our business:

  • All non-food factories across Asia: livelihoods and working hours, health and safety, worker representation
  • Peruvian agriculture: worker representation and working hours
  • Turkey and Syrian refugees: forced labour, livelihoods at farm level
  • Spanish salads: forced labour at farm level
  • Italian tomatoes: forced labour at farm level
  • UK agriculture: accommodation standards
  • Indian spinning mills: forced labour, gender equality.

More examples of our work within the supply chains of our top products can be found at www.tescoplc-uat.superunion.co/sustainability-2021/taking-action/healthy-sustainable-products/top-20-products/. Work on these issues is led by the Group Responsible Sourcing team.

3. Mitigating risks

Once we have identified our priorities, we then seek to work collaboratively with our suppliers, wider industry, civil society and, where appropriate, policy-makers to mitigate human rights risks - i.e. what steps can we take to avoid, reduce or manage those risks. This may include ethical audits, collaborative projects or training workers to understand their human rights.

A review in 2018/19 led us to modify how we mitigate human rights risks in our supply chain. Our new approach is based on three pillars: improving standards for people working in our own operations and our supply chains through continuous improvement programmes with suppliers, driving transformative industry-wide efforts to address endemic labour and community issues, and using our convening power to advocate for change.

Our Human Rights Requirements for Tesco UK Food and Grocery non-food suppliers are updated on an annual basis, most recently in March 2020 following consultation with internal and external stakeholders. The requirements were communicated to suppliers directly as well as via our supplier network and are readily available on our internal supplier portal. You can download our full human rights requirements for food and grocery non-food suppliers here.


Own operations

In our own operations and procurement, dedicated head office staff work closely with all service providers, as well as our internal People function, Distribution Centre and Security Managers to help address risks. This includes training staff to spot potential indicators of modern slavery. In 2019 we reviewed our ethical audit requirements for suppliers into our own-operations in UK/ROI. The revised Human Rights requirements focus on the areas of highest risk and include requiring key suppliers to engage with the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit as well as attending bi-annual meetings with the Responsible Sourcing Team to ensure that together we continue to strengthen and coordinate our approach to identifying and mitigating risks of modern slavery.

Our UK labour providers are registered with the Gangmasters Labour and Abuse Authority and prohibited from actively recruiting from outside of the UK without the prior agreement of Tesco, as recruiting people who have moved to the UK autonomously, and have the legal right to work here, reduces the risk of human trafficking and exploitation. We work collaboratively with our service providers to help ensure all temporary workers receive a reasonable number of paid hours each week and have the opportunity to transfer to permanent employment when vacancies arise.

We have also reviewed our use of labour providers in other Tesco markets, starting with Thailand and Malaysia where we know that the charging of fees to workers by recruitment agents can be commonplace. We are working to reduce the number of labour providers we use placing our business with those we trust most, and where possible recruiting directly from migrant workers’ home countries where we need to do so, rather than recruiting via intermediaries, which can increase risks of worker indebtedness.

Supply base

Our programme to improve standards for people working in our supply chains uses a combination of in-house visits by our expert responsible sourcing team, independent ethical audits by trusted partners and independent certifications to assure working conditions in high risk sites. Importantly, each of these tools include direct engagement with workers, visits to associated facilities such as housing, and a review of relevant documents.

Ethical auditing is predominantly focused on the ‘first tier’ of the supply chain, i.e. sites producing the final product, such as a clothing factory or food manufacturing plant. Sites in high risk countries must have an audit before supply and then on an annual basis. We also audit beyond first-tier based on the risk of the products being produced. For example, we audit down to grower level for our fresh fruit and vegetables and do this in collaboration with our first-tier suppliers who cascade our requirements along the supply chain. Ethical audits are conducted in accordance with SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA) guidelines.

SMETA, a SEDEX initiative, helps consumer brands and their suppliers reduce duplication and ensure better quality auditing by setting out a robust methodology and a common format for the audit report and its corresponding corrective action plan. Using the SEDEX platform we are also able to gather information on our suppliers and supply chain sites in one place and analyse this to inform our work and strategy. For example, in 2019/20 we have been analysing data on women in primary sites to inform our gender strategy.

All audits are conducted by specialists who are required by Tesco to go through an internal review of auditor experience and competency before completing any audits or interviews with workers in their own languages. The size and composition of the audit team and duration of the audit are tailored to the supplier/site and reflect the gender profile of the workforce and the main languages spoken.

Announcing the date of audits to suppliers in advance helps ensure that all necessary records are present for inspection during the audit and helps build ownership of ethical issues by the supplier’s management team. However, this practice can present an opportunity for some suppliers to prepare sites and coach workers prior to an audit in an attempt to manipulate findings. To address this risk, we nearly always operate ‘semi-announced’ audits, a process where suppliers are given a one-month window during which the audit will take place as opposed to an exact date. This enables suppliers to ensure that the relevant records are present on site, but that there is less chance for manipulation. In addition, we sometimes make entirely unannounced visits if we have particular concerns, including to validate audit findings.

During the closing meeting for all audits, all non-compliances are discussed and a Corrective Action Plan Report (CAPR) agreed between the supplier and the auditor. If any critical non-compliances are found, the audit company will notify Tesco directly. They will also inform Tesco of any issues that the supplier refused to acknowledge or that could not be verified. Any attempt to interfere with the course of the audit through fraud, coercion, deception or interference is treated as a critical non-compliance and reported to Tesco.

Following the audit, suppliers are required to resolve all corrective actions identified in the audit report, addressing non-compliances with the ETI Base Code and local law. The supplier is responsible for completing all corrective actions on the CAPR within agreed timescales, and for obtaining verification of closure from the independent auditors — normally within six months. The whole process, from planning, through supplier completion to final auditor verification, is tracked through SEDEX, enabling our Commercial teams to have oversight of progress and take action where necessary.

Although we have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to critical breaches of the ETI Base Code, it is important to note that we do not abandon suppliers facing such problems. Our first aim is to ensure the issues are remediated and practices put in place to avoid recurrence. If we then believe that there is both commitment from the suppliers to avoid recurrence, and capability to do so, we will usually continue to work with them until and unless there is any repetition. We believe this approach supports improvement and that a simple ‘cut and run’ approach, as well as being bad news for workers when orders are cancelled, discourages transparency with suppliers about the challenges they face.

On the rare occasions that we do not believe the supplier is committed to remediation, we will then seek to exit in a responsible manner, often continuing orders for up to three months to allow workers to have good notice of any changed hours as a result of our business moving. A good example of this in action is when we occasionally find that workers have not been paid for all hours worked, which is a critical issue. Rather than exiting the relationship with the supplier, we seek to agree that workers are back paid at least three months of any missing salaries. If the supplier agrees and implements this approach, we will continue working with them. Where significant human rights issues are identified at new sites, the appropriateness of sourcing is reviewed alongside commercial colleagues. Where applicable, we support suppliers to close non-conformances prior to supply.

Talking directly to workers about workplace concerns is a powerful addition to intelligence gathered through other routes including audits, participatory interviews and links with local stakeholders on the ground. An essential part of all audits are the worker interviews which gather concerns and suggestions and pass these on to management to ensure continuous improvement of labour conditions. In 2020, we also begun piloting &Wider, a simple mobile survey that allows us to listen directly to workers, in a sample of key supply chains. As part of our core programme we require that suppliers display ETI posters and audit results on suppliers’ notice boards so that workers know what their rights are and that they are being met or remediated.

We also use certification standards to help us improve standards for workers and smallholders in our supply chain. Our primary certification partner for a number of key supply chains is the Rainforest Alliance, who use the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standard. We also use the Fairtrade standard and you can find more information about other certification partners here. There is more detail about how these partners work across our ‘Top 20’ most important products and ingredients here.

As part of our new strategy, we are continually exploring supplementary tools to audits. This includes a commitment to conduct Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIAs) to understand if they provide a clearer understanding of the impact which Tesco’s trade has on workers and their communities.

In 2019, we initiated a HRIA in the Vietnamese Prawn supply chain. This assessment is due for completion in 2020 will enable us to obtain a greater understanding of how our sourcing impacts workers and their communities. We are committed to carrying at least 2 further HRIAs by the end of 2021.


We recognise that in many cases we cannot address labour rights abuses without first addressing the root causes which underly them. Our four new themes for our Tesco UK strategy are helping to address some of these underlying issues.

Sustainable livelihoods

Sustainable livelihoods

We have recently incorporated sustainable livelihoods for workers and smallholder farmers as one of four themes in our revised human rights strategy. This recognises that, although our trade provides opportunities and employment, there is still poverty associated with many different products and supply chains. For example, minimum wages may not be enough to meet worker’s basic needs or national infrastructure (e.g. in healthcare) may be insufficient. We recognise that workers and farmers need to receive a fair share of the value they contribute to a company’s products and be able to afford basic needs for themselves and their families.

We are committed to working with workers, trade unions and NGOs in relevant supply chains to identify living wage benchmarks and publish examples of the gaps in prevailing wages. Examples of this work include our involvement in the Malawi 2020 tea project and our involvement in the Living Wage Advocacy Initiative, part of the World Banana Forum.

In 2019/20 we have developed a sustainable livelihoods strategy which outlines priority supply chains, our approach to supporting livelihoods and key actions we will be taking. To view our strategy, please click here.

Forced labour

Forced labour

Our second strategic theme in our revised human rights strategy is forced labour, an issue which we recognise is widespread in food and non-food supply chains. In addition to work in our own operations on this issue detailed above, we have supported a number of programmes linked to tackling forced labour. In recent years, we have continued to address the risk of Sumangali and the restriction of workers’ freedom in India through the ETI Tamil Nadu Multi-Stakeholders Platform (TNMS) local consultative committee. We also continue to support and promote Stronger Together, an initiative combating forced labour risks in the UK and South Africa. More information can be found in our Modern Slavery Statement and details of our collaborations to address forced labour can be found here.

Worker representation

Worker representation

We have incorporated effective worker representation as the third theme in our revised human rights strategy, recognising input from stakeholders, including global trade unions, and our experience of working to remove barriers to effective worker representation in our supply chains.

A significant part of our work under this pillar is about promoting dialogue between trade unions, suppliers, industry organizations, certification & audit companies as well as some governments in Latin America which are detailed below. We have also worked with factories in Bangladesh, India and Turkey which supply to Tesco to engage in the ETI Social Dialogue Programme to empower worker representatives and ensure free election of worker representatives. Our work will increasingly mean engaging strategic suppliers in the importance of worker representation via the ETI resources on Freedom of Association, Collective Bargaining and worker representation.

In sites where there are trade unions, we work with suppliers to ensure trade union representatives are treated with respect and no discrimination takes place. When there have been complaints of discrimination, Tesco actively encourages bilateral negotiations to take place to resolve the disagreements and promote management training to ensure better relations with trade union leaders. We have worked with ETI closely to address multiple cases of trade union discrimination in factories in Sri Lanka, India and Turkey. In our banana supply chain, we are in regular dialogue with union representatives at the Ethical Trading Initiative, alongside representatives from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Union of Food (IUF) and Trades Union Congress (TUC). We also have regular bilateral meetings with regional civil society organizations such as Banana Link and COLSIBA- the Confederation of Latin American Banana Unions.

In sites where there is no trade union affiliation, we seek to ensure all our suppliers have independent, democratically elected worker committees. In Latin America in particular we monitor all sites (both pack houses and farms) to ensure workers are able to democratically elect their representatives to worker committees and/ or Health and Safety committees. It is our belief that where workers organise independently and select their representatives without management interference, most labour conditions will tend to be considerably better than in sites where there is no worker representation. We have also found management are usually more respectful of organised workers.

To further emphasise to suppliers the importance Tesco places on worker representation, in 2019 we developed a set of expectations and guidance points for our suppliers. This document helps to make clear to suppliers what adequate worker representation means when local laws and cultures differ so considerably.

The most significant impact of our work overall has been in Peru where a few years ago almost none of our suppliers had democratically elected worker representatives – as is common across the local industry. Now all Tesco suppliers have free and fair elections by workers to elect their representatives and management holds regular meetings with worker representatives. Written records are kept to ensure management commitment to address workers concerns and requests. Audits also assess if a majority of workers are aware of who their representatives are and if they are satisfied with their effectiveness. Tesco have been actively supporting work by the Ethical Trading Initiative to ensure best labour practices - including freedom of association- are shared and extended more widely in the region. This programme has included sharing examples from farmers in Mexico and Colombia to improve worker representation across the region.


Gender equality

Gender equality

The final theme of our new human rights strategy is a commitment to identifying gender equality issues in our operations and supply chain and working to mitigate and remediate these.

In Latin America, as part of our ethical due diligence and SMETA audit quality programme we have begun strict enforcement of gender balance in all the worker committees to guarantee female workers have adequate representation. This ensures issues of specific importance to women are given the necessary attention during worker / management meetings.

In 2019, we developed a gender strategy identifying key areas of focus and our approach within priority supply chains. View our strategy here.


Our collaborations

We collaborate in a number of different ways to address specific, entrenched human rights issues which include our four themes. Our collaborations fall into one of five models:

  1. Funding or co-funding in-depth investigations into supply chains where human rights risks are identified, for example investigations into the efficacy of grievance mechanisms in Thai poultry supply chains in 2018
  2. Using our in-country resource to investigate potential human rights risks in partnership with suppliers, for example work with our condom manufacturers in Malaysia to understand risks associated with labour agency management in 2019
  3. Funding in-country resources to work alongside suppliers in high risk regions including South America and Southern Africa. We have dedicated staff in South Africa and Costa Rica who are in regular contact with suppliers in their respective regions to provide training and guidance on issues ranging from discrimination to working hours and labour agency management
  4. Working with suppliers to establish forums that build suppliers’ capabilities to manage human rights effectively globally or in particular countries. Examples include the Seafood Ethics Action Alliance (SEAA), the Food Network for Ethical Trade in the UK (FNET), Stronger Together (UK, Spain and South Africa) and the Spanish Ethical Trade Forums (Spain)
  5. Funding collaborative multi-stakeholder initiatives to tackle systemic human rights issues including the Accord (Bangladesh) and the Issara Institute (Thailand).

More information on our human rights collaborations is available here.

The collaborative nature of our work leads us to engage with a wide range of individuals and organisations who support workers globally to realise their human rights. In some countries, we recognise that there is increasing pressure on human rights defenders, including trade unions. We do not tolerate threats, intimidation, physical or legal attacks on human rights defenders in relation to our operations.


Our recent review of our human rights strategy recommended that our approach should have a greater focus on using our convening power to advocate for change where it is needed. Some examples of our advocacy work include:

  1. A joint letter in 2020 to the Royal Thai Government, which welcomes some of the key reforms to address human rights issues in Thailand’s fishing sector, and urges these measures to be kept in place.
  2. Joint advocacy through the Seafood Ethics Action Alliance (SEAA) in 2018 to engage governments in high risk seafood producing countries on issues of labour rights
  3. Advocacy via our in-country human rights teams with labour ministers in a number of countries to promote decent wages and working hours for agricultural workers, which have helped encourage dialogue between government and trade unions
  4. Advocacy with the UK government calling for greater support for victims of modern slavery
  5. Advocacy by strategic suppliers to Tesco with governments in Europe to promote formalised labour recruitment systems akin to the model used in the UK
  6. Signing up to the Environmental Justice Foundation’s Transparency Charter to end illegal fishing and slavery at sea

4. Remediating risks and grievance mechanisms

We recognize the need for workers to have access to UN Guiding Principle-compliant grievance mechanisms, and for remediation to be provided when human rights breaches occur. We are publicly committed to supporting, and not impeding access to state-based judicial or non-judicial mechanisms. We do not require individuals or communities participating in a grievance process to permanently waive their legal rights to bring a claim through a judicial process as a condition of participating in the grievance process.

All Tesco employees and workers in Tesco’s ‘first tier’ supply base have access to our confidential, independently managed Protector Line. Workers in lower tiers and communities can also use the line and all concerns will be investigated, but it is not communicated directly to these workers and communities. Protector Line is promoted in the language relevant to the location of the site. Call operators speak a variety of languages, and “in call translation” can be used to ensure that the caller can speak in the language that they choose to.

We investigate any reports immediately and provide confidentiality for complainants where requested. Insights from these services are reviewed at Risk and Compliance Committee meetings in each of our operating markets and, at a group level, by the Group Risk and Compliance Committee chaired by the Group Chief Executive.

In some contexts there are potential barriers to using such grievance mechanisms – for example language, access to telecommunications, low literacy - or where there are additional vulnerabilities for women, migrant workers or small-scale farmers. That’s why our team of 45 responsible sourcing specialists based across 9 key sourcing countries increases our ability to find out about local concerns, through dialogue with a range of stakeholders. They will investigate any issues of concern and will take appropriate remedial action. Where we identify clear cases of human rights abuses, we work to rectify those abuses and make sure that the harm inflicted on workers is put right, partnering with charities and NGOs as required.

We are committed to work closely with at least three of our high-risk supply chains to ensure that by the end of 2020, workers, and where relevant smallholder farmers, have access to appropriate grievance mechanisms and remedy, in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles.

In 2019, we entered into partnership with the charity, Unseen, who run the UK’s only fully independent and confidential Modern Slavery helpline. Helpline advisors are able to support potential victims of modern slavery as well as offer a way for businesses and the general public to raise suspicions or concerns. We strongly encourage all our primary supplying sites in the UK as well as our distribution and fulfilment centres promote the helpline, enabling us to continue to raise awareness of modern slavery. We are also in the progress of rolling out Modern Slavery posters to community noticeboards in all our large stores across the UK. Our partnership not only supports the expansion of the helpline but, where indicators of modern slavery are identified at sites relevant to Tesco, the Unseen Business Portal enables us to collaborate with other members also to ensure resolution.

5. Monitoring and communication

Our performance against our plan, risks and trends is reported annually through our Little Helps Plan and to stakeholders including the Ethical Trading Initiative. The ETI report we prepare is scrutinised by trade union and NGO members of ETI (members include the Trades Union Congress, CARE and Anti-Slavery International) and feedback is provided to us to help us review our activities and improve.

Tesco is a founding member of Sedex and tracks the majority of its data through the Sedex platform. Tracking reports are generated periodically and shared with our technical colleagues to manage with the supply base (with oversight by the responsible sourcing team). The reports provide detail of site audit data of first tier sites, including non-compliances with the ETI Base Code.

We have taken steps in the last six months, to refine how we measure the effectiveness of our Tesco UK due diligence approach and to move beyond a focus on the outcomes of ethical audits. This includes setting KPIs on each of the 4 areas of our strategy – forced labour, gender equality, sustainable livelihoods and workers representation. We are involving suppliers, NGOs and trade unions in the development of this framework, consulting with them on the development and monitoring of each area of work.

The collaborations we are part of provide another route for tracking the impact our work has on human rights. For example, within the Malawi 2020 project, we track the impact of the programme on farmers, who are predominantly women. For example, increases in yields were 15-20% higher for women trained in agricultural practices than untrained groups in 2018.

We are committed to evolving and developing the tools we use to measure our human rights impact as a business. With this in mind, we have committed to publish the findings of at least three multi-stakeholder human rights impact assessments over the next three years which will be conducted in consultation with key stakeholders including NGOs. Each of the assessments will focus on one product and one country and will differentiate, where relevant, between impacts on women and men, migrant and local workers and workers and small-holder farmers.