Stores urged to stop Third World exploitation

How firms can instigate change
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Christian Aid highlights the cases of three companies which have reacted to growing social and environmental concern with action, writes Louise Jury.

B&Q, the UK's leading DIY store, which has annual sales of more than pounds 1bn, decided at the end of the 1980s that it had to tackle the issue of the destruction of rainforests. It concluded that simply stopping the purchase of tropical timber, possibly the easiest option, would not solve the deforestation problem.

So it recruited an environmental specialist, Dr Alan Knight, with a pounds 500,000 budget, to find timber from well- managed forests for all its products. He believes retailers can change conditions for the better.

"We are more powerful than small governments, because we have enormous cheque books."

Migros, the leading food retailer in Switzerland, had exclusive rights to Del Monte products. Both came under fierce lobbying by Swiss organisations in 1981 over treatment of pineapple workers in the Philippines.

Christian Aid claims both companies suffered from their public image being tarnished but responded by agreeing to improvements in conditions and the creation of a monitoring body.

The US clothing company, Gap, was criticised last year when one of its sub-contractors in El Salvador fired more than 300 trade unionists.

Christian Aid claims Gap at first tried to cease business with the company, hoping to limit the damage. But under pressure from campaigners, it agreed to go back to El Salvador and try to improve conditions at the plant involved.

Independent human rights workers were allowed access to monitor working conditions alongside Gap's own staff. The firm produced a code of conduct and introduced vigorous enforcement. Christian Aid lauds Gap for setting a benchmark for other companies.