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The Guardian view on Tesco and supply chains: landmark case shines a light | Editorial

Rising prices dominate the news, but Burmese workers taking the supermarket to court are a reminder that cheap goods come at a cost

“That period was a time I was in hell” is how one woman describes her two years working for VK Garments (VKG) in Thailand. Hla Hla Tey, who at 54 has struggled to find work since losing her job and now lives in a monastery, is among 130 former workers who are bringing a landmark case against Tesco in the UK. The supermarket giant stands accused of negligence and unjust enrichment on the basis of events at a clothing factory making F&F brand jeans in Mae Sot, a city at the Myanmar border, between 2017 and 2020. The area is described as a wild west of the global garment industry, with western retailers and their subcontractors drawn by the promise of cheap labour supplied by Burmese migrants.

Attention at the moment is rightly focused on the adverse effects of rising prices. Particularly in the run-up to Christmas, the UK public is accustomed to being reminded about the financial and other difficulties faced by people who are less fortunate than themselves. But the harmful impact of downward cost pressures must not be forgotten, even if those harms take place thousands of miles away. The demand for cheap goods, including new fashions, continues to lead to the exploitation of workers around the world, as employers vie with one another to fulfil orders as cheaply as they can.

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