FoE slams Tesco's CSR agenda

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Tesco, Supermarket

Ahead of today's Tesco annual general meeting - which will analyse
ten environmental and social pledges set out by its CEO in May -
Friends of the Earth has accused the grocery chain of misleading
shareholders and customers with empty promises.

The environment charity has slammed claims by the UK's leading retailer that it is striving to become "a better neighbour"​ by working harder to serve local communities, cut fuel emissions, food miles and packaging waste.

These actions form the basis of a 10-point plan appearing in Tesco's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report published earlier this year, and reiterated by CEO Terry Leahy in May.

Following months of bad press over landbank practices, an irresponsible approach to environmental issues and the monopolisation of Britain's grocery market, Tesco has worked hard to change its image.

Last month the firm announced it will join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to help the industry identify responsible sourcing methods that will better protect South East Asian orangutans and their rainforest habitats.

But FoE insists the company is doing very little in practice to adopt greener sourcing, distribution and expansion policies at home and abroad.

"Rather than becoming a green and socially responsible company, Tesco is using every trick in the book to dominate the retail market and coerce local authorities,"​ said FoE supermarket campaigner Sandra Bell.

"Tesco's expansion may be good news for shareholders, but it comes at a devastating cost for farmers, communities and the environment,"​ she added.

The charity is urging Tesco to pull out of its 10 year battle to get planning permission for a new supermarket in a Norfolk town in southern England. FoE said papers released by North Norfolk District Council last week allegedly reveal a secret and illegal agreement between Tesco and the council.

Local residents have been fighting the proposed store for a decade through the planning process, but no decision has yet been finalised.

The charity has also said Tesco is misleading shareholders over claims it will cut store energy use by 50 per cent by 2010. FoE has tested the claim, first published in the CSR report, and has calculated that energy-use resulting from Tesco's expansion is likely to outweigh any proposed energy saving measures.

Furthermore, FoE has criticised the retailer's biodegradable bags policy, saying they will bring no environmental benefits because they are made from fossil fuels and will still end up in landfill sites which do not have the right conditions to break the bags down.

But Tesco said in a statement: "In 2004 we were one of the first supermarkets to introduce degradable plastic carrier bags in our UK stores. These bags break down in as little as 60 days into biomass, carbon dioxide, water and mineral water, with no harmful residue, unlike conventional plastic carrier bags."

The world's fourth largest retailer plans to open 130 new Express stores in Britain over the next 12 months, as it focuses on organic domestic expansion. Tesco will also open 392 more international stores in 2006-07, adding 6.6m square feet of new retail space to overseas trading.

These developments are expected to create more than 20,000 jobs worldwide in the coming year, and with a new £100m capital fund to invest in green technology the firm is confident it can work to benefit local communities and the environment.

"Tesco works hard to bring real benefits to the communities we serve, the environment and the economy. This is recognised through our inclusion in the FTSE4Good and Dow Jones Sustainability indices,"​ it said.

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