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Tesco Exec Says Slavery Exists in All Supply Chains

All corporations have slavery in their supply chains, said a senior executive at Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, Tesco.

Giles Bolton, responsible sourcing director for the retailer, was speaking Wednesday on a panel about ridding supply chains of slave labor during the Trust Women Conference on women’s rights and trafficking hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London.

“Some of those instances are absolutely horrific,” he said, as reported by Reuters. “Sometimes it can be the case, that the pressure of the competition can lead to some of those problems, but for the most part [businesses are] part of the solution.”

And a boycott, he said, is not the answer.

He was alluding to the aftermath of 2013’s Rana Plaza building collapse, when some consumers called on apparel brands to stop doing business in Bangladesh after more than 1,100 people lost their lives in the tragedy.

“Boycotts put our jobs at risk. The last thing we want is brands to pull their orders out of Bangladesh. We need these jobs, but we need these jobs with dignity,” Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, said at the time.

Nearly three years later, Bolton echoed those sentiments: “Some of the more simplistic campaigners out there are saying, ‘Don’t buy 10 T-shirts from Bangladesh—buy one from Italy.’ Please don’t do that,” he said, noting that the garment industry has lifted millions out of poverty in Asia.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation this week launched the Stop Slavery Award. To be presented for the first time in November 2016, it will recognize companies in different industries that are leading the fight against forced labor in their supply chains.

Recently announced legislation in the U.K. (Modern Slavery Act) mandates that all British companies with a turnover of more than 36 million pounds (or $54.7 million) publish evidence of steps taken to ensure there is no slavery or human trafficking present in their supply chain.