Asda managers told Asian staff to show passports

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The Independent Online

The Asda supermarket group is being threatened with legal action for alleged racial discrimination after insisting that Muslim employees produce their passports to prove they had the right to work in Britain.

At one of the company's main depots, a manager read out "foreign-sounding" names over the public address system ordering them to report immediately to the manager's office. The workers, who were all Muslims, were ordered to produce evidence that they were not illegal immigrants. At least one was threatened with the sack unless he produced his passport the next day.

The highly public initiative by management, which came within weeks of the July 7 bombings in London, was followed by a spate of graffiti at the depot in Wakefield expressing hatred and contempt for Muslims and their religion.

The GMB general union said there was evidence that management used the same tactics elsewhere. One union source said: "This could be malice on the company's part, or it could simply reflect the fact that pay is so low they don't get the most intelligent managers."

The union says the message came after the introduction of legislation which dictates that all new employees must prove their right to work in the country. However, many of the Muslims called upon to produce their passports had been working for the company for years and had been in the country for decades. The GMB points out that the law applies to all new employees and that it explicitly forbids one group being singled out.

In a letter to the Wakefield store, Steven Huckerby, GMB regional organiser, said management had created an atmosphere that made it acceptable to treat racial groups differently.

Mr Huckerby said that one man of Asian origin with 10 years' service had been asked to produce documents to prove he had the right to work in Britain.

A spokesman for Asda said the company fully accepted that the managers in question had handled the situation poorly. "We are fully committed to equality in the workplace and we deeply regret what happened," he said. He added it was a "coincidence" that the initiative came within weeks of the London bombings. One Asda source said the managers in question had been disciplined.