Phone sex and prostitution? Are these really businesses that Tesco should be in?

Tesco is the biggest high-street shop to sell degrading, pornographic lads’ mags. Their AGM on Friday is the ideal opportunity to bring this to an end

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Right now, it’s possible to pop down to your local Tesco, pick up a loaf of bread, and find out what number to call to hire “Asian and oriental escorts”. Or how about a number for “just 18” women who “want you to shag their mouths and then c*m on their face”?

You won’t find prostitution and phone-sex adverts on Tesco’s website, but you will if you enter one of their stores and pick up a lads’ mag like Nuts or Zoo. Tesco is the largest retailer in the UK. That makes it the biggest high-street shop to sell sexist lads’ mags – along with the exploitative and racist sex-industry adverts carried in their back pages. The Tesco website claims that “we use our scale for good”. Something, then, has gone very wrong with the current product list for their stores.

In case Tesco’s boardroom hasn’t noticed, the lads’ mags they stock on their shelves portray women as dehumanised sex-objects for the purpose of sexually gratifying male readers. The Sexualisation of Young People Review (commissioned by the Government in 2010) found that “lads’ mags promote an idea of male sexuality as based on power and aggression, depicting women as sex objects and include articles that feature strategies for manipulating women”. The American Psychological Association, in 2007, concluded that viewing this kind of media makes people more accepting of sexual harassment, interpersonal violence and rape myths. In short, lads’ mags fuel the attitudes that underpin violence against women.

But Tesco’s board don’t need to sift through academic papers to grasp the problem. The inherent misogyny of lads’ mags isn’t subtle. Take the current issue of Zoo on sale at Tesco: a close-up image of a woman’s breasts and the headline: “THE SUMMER BOOBS ISSUE”. Tesco would not display pornographic “girly calendars” behind their tills, so what are these magazines still doing on their shelves?

It’s a question others are asking. Earlier this month, 18 lawyers specialising in equality and discrimination law signed an open letter to shops, pointing out that exposing employees and customers to pornographic lads’ mags can constitute sexual harassment and sex discrimination (under the Equality Act 2010). Tesco is not only profiting from misogynist publications, it is risking legal action to do so.

This can and must change. Thousands of people have joined UK Feminista and Object to urge Tesco to lose the lads’ mags. Every single member of Tesco’s board has the power – and the responsibility – to heed their call. They also have the ideal opportunity tomorrow, at their AGM, to reassure shareholders that Tesco will no longer stock harmful, pornographic lads’ mags. Because when it comes to fuelling sexism, every lads’  mag helps.

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