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MP Bryant backs down on Tesco claim
Labour frontbencher Chris Bryant has been forced to back down over criticism of high street store chains Tesco and Next for using foreign workers.
The shadow immigration minister insisted he had never intended to suggest the firms were "unscrupulous" after advance extracts of a keynote speech he is making were briefed to a Sunday newspaper.
According to the details published in the Sunday Telegraph, he attacked "unscrupulous employers" who brought over large numbers of workers to the UK from low-wage EU countries, putting them up in substandard accommodation, without paying the national minimum wage, and undercutting local workers.
He then went on to highlight a new Tesco distribution centre "in Kent", where he said a "large percentage" of the staff were from the eastern bloc, and Next's Elmsall warehouse where hundreds of Polish workers were employed for the summer sales.
But after the two firms complained publicly about the allegations, Mr Bryant said his comments about "unscrupulous" employers had not been aimed specifically at them and elements of his speech had been "conflated" in some press reports.
He was also forced to acknowledge that the Tesco distribution centre he was referring to was in Dagenham in the east London borough of Barking and Dagenham, formerly in Essex, and not Kent - as briefed to the Sunday Telegraph.
"Mr Bryant wrongly claims that Polish workers are used to save money. This is simply not true. We are deeply disappointed Mr Bryant did not bother to check his facts with the company before releasing his speech," a Next spokesman said.
A spokesman for Tesco said: "It is wrong to accuse Tesco of this. We work incredibly hard to recruit from the local area, and have just recruited 350 local people to work in our Dagenham site."
Asked if Tesco had spoken to him following Sunday's press reports, Mr Bryant said: "I've not personally had conversations with either Next or Tesco. I'm not back-tracking from my basic point."
Mr Bryant said his point was that if migration was to work for everyone then big employers, including Tesco and Next who are "scrupulous about trying to employ" local workers, have a duty to the community to try to hire staff locally.