Tesco's Image in Question

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Tesco's Image in Question

NEW YORK -- Tesco is marketing itself as a socially-responsible, green and healthy alternative to established retailers, but a recent report questioned the company's record on labor relations and environmental issues, as well as its promises of improving access to healthy food in low-income communities, the Times Online reported.

Despite Tesco's high-profile pledges to move into "food deserts," areas other grocery retailers have left, researchers in the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) in Los Angeles' Occidental College, revealed that fewer than ten of the 98 stores already signed by Tesco in the U.S. are in high-poverty areas, according to the Times Online.

The report also criticizes Tesco for refusing to hold discussions with local unions, only offering store workers part-time positions, and shying away from the kind of local sourcing initiatives that it operates in parts of the United Kingdom. The report also points out the criticism Tesco faced over conditions of workers in its supply chain from charitable groups, such as War on Want and ActionAid.

"Tesco's decision to come in as a smaller format is allowing them to fly under the radar on issues that people might have if they had come in with hypermarkets," said Amanda Shaffer, one of the report's authors. "We wanted to hold their feet to the fire and say 'If you are saying you want to do everything Americans want, then you have to do what Americans want.' "

Tesco has carefully fostered its green credentials in America, topping its Disneyland-sized distribution center with solar panels and using a polar bear as a corporate symbol or mascot to remind people of its concern about global warming, the report stated.

Shaffer said that Tesco clearly has huge ambitions in America and had told researchers it wanted neighborhood stores every one or two miles.

"Tesco is going to make a big impact on the industry, and we hope that if they take a positive route, it will push others in that direction," Shaffer said in the Times Online report.

In response, Tesco said it was not anti-union and it was too early to hold discussions with trade unions as it had only recently begun recruiting staff, the report stated. Additionally, the company has promised to pay $10 an hour, $1.50 more than the minimum wage, and will offer health insurance unlike some rivals.

A spokesman said in the Times Online report: "We will be a good employer. A lot of effort has gone into making Fresh & Easy a great place to work, and it will be up to our people whether they want to be in a union."

Tesco also said it would support Californian suppliers and growers, and added: "We have not had the opportunity to review the UEPI report in any detail and are disappointed we were not consulted."