Channel 4 vindicated in Tesco child labour report

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has rejected a series of complaints by Tesco over a Channel 4 report into child labour in Bangladesh factories.

Ofcom found that the report, broadcast on 10 October 2006, did not allege that Tesco was deliberately or knowingly using child labour to produce its clothing.

Instead, the report found that companies who were supplying Tesco had employed workers below the legal age limit in Bangladesh. Some of those under 14s were producing clothes for Tesco, the report found.

Ofcom said it did not see the report as a detailed attack on Tesco alleging it used underage employees. Instead, it said, the report ‘set out to highlight the fact that Tesco was unaware of what was happening and question its ability to enforce its much publicised ethical standards”.

Tesco had complained that the report included unfair footage and commentary on various points including the age of some of the children in the report. The supermarket giant’s lawyers, Carter-Ruck, challenged the report’s depiction of a boy in the factory which it said ‘looked no more than eight”.

Carter-Ruck stated that the boy was only visiting the factory and was in fact 12, still below the employment age limit of 14. A number of others identified in the report as ‘children’were over 18s, according to Carter Ruck, who provided employment records and age estimations from Marie Stopes Clinic doctors.

The Ofcom fairness committee, the regulator’s most senior decision making body on fairness and privacy issues, said it was not its job to find out conclusively the age of the individuals referred to, but to establish if the programme-makers ‘took reasonable care as to the material facts’referred to in the broadcasting code.

The supermarket also contested the use of anonymous sources which made it difficult for it to rebut the accusations levelled at it. But Ofcom found that the testimonies were ‘consistent and corroborated each other’and were backed by a number of other witnesses.

Ofcom also found that Channel 4 had given Tesco reasonable time to respond to the claims. It rejected further claims by Tesco that the head of the textile federation was ‘misled’by the broadcaster in an interview for the piece; that the programme unfairly portrayed Tesco as having a ‘don’t care’ attitude by visiting only two of the four factories when it visited all of them following the allegations; and that the allegation that Tesco was ‘cutting and running’from the factories was not put to the supermarket.

The film was commissioned by Channel 4 News’s Independents Fund and produced by Jane Fellner at Evolve Television.

Jim Gray, the editor of Channel 4 News, said: ‘Channel 4 News’s reputation is founded upon its track record for delivering high quality, original journalism through thorough, rigorous and accurate investigation. This report possessed all of these qualities and investigative journalism remains at the heart of everything we do.”

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