An environmental alliance ramped up their campaign against supermarket giant Tesco, (Friday, June 16) aiming to spotlight the company's purported negligence towards the pollution of the River Wye. The march, led by Marches Climate Action (MCA) and supported by other groups such as Save The Wye and Friends of the Upper and Lower Wye, began on a local level in Hereford. Today, it scaled up dramatically as it brought the fight right to Tesco's head office in Welwyn Garden City, both inside and outside the company's Annual General Meeting.
Today's standout demonstration piece was a crafted 'mantle' or 'cloak', bearing hundreds of written pleas from Hereford's shoppers. This 'Mantle of Responsibility', as campaigners labelled it, called on Tesco to honour their environmental commitments. The protest leaders encouraged Tesco's top brass to receive this symbolic mantle as an emblem of their accountability.
Beyond this symbolic display, protesters voiced their concerns more directly. Inside the AGM, they challenged Tesco over its responsibility for the damage to the River Wye. The questions centred on Tesco's ties with Avara, a poultry processor based in Hereford. Owned in part by American multinational Cargill, Avara has recently admitted some culpability for the river's significant pollution via phosphate runoff from its numerous Intensive Poultry Units (IPUs). These IPUs, housing an estimated 20 million birds, produce phosphate-rich waste which ultimately finds its way into the river, resulting in significant environmental degradation.
By naming Avara as the chief supplier of poultry products for its Willow brand in 2019, Tesco has broken its own environmental and supplier policies, claim the campaigners. These policies include commitments to prevent pollutants from affecting waterways and to avoid causing irrevocable ecosystem damage.
The damage to the Wye ecosystem has been significant and could potentially become irreversible. At the end of the last month, Natural England officially downgraded the River Wye’s status to unfavourable and declining.
Vey Straker, a campaigner dressed as Lady Wye, said, "Tesco's attitude is all smoke and mirrors." She added, "All we want is for Tesco to take responsibility, honour its commitments and clean up its supply chain by ending its contract with Avara and Cargill."
The campaign points to recent reports implicating Cargill in Amazon and Cerrado deforestation. Cargill imports soya from these areas into the UK, a key ingredient in Avara's chicken feed. In a bid to highlight what they term "a toxic supply chain," MCA protesters have twice blockaded the Avara/Cargill feed mill near Hereford in the past year.
The campaigners are demanding that Tesco disengage from AvaraCargill and source from a more responsible, less damaging supplier. For more information about the campaign, visit www.MarchesClimateAction.com.