Polish plan to honor Portuguese-run supermarket sparks anger

AP News
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Posted: Jul 31, 2015 9:43 AM
Polish plan to honor Portuguese-run supermarket sparks anger

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's government has postponed plans to bestow a top honor on the Portuguese businessman who runs popular discount supermarket chain Biedronka after a public outcry over the company's alleged exploitation of workers.

The incident exposes growing tensions between Poland's pro-market government, which in this case wanted to reward a foreign company that has created jobs, and Poles who feel the government's pro-business policies are enriching corporations to the detriment of workers.

Voter anger threatens to unseat the ruling Civic Platform party in fall parliamentary elections.

Poland's foreign minister had planned to bestow the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland on Pedro Pereira da Silva, director of the Portuguese food distribution group Jeronimo Martins in Poland, on Wednesday. The order is meant to honor foreigners or Poles abroad who have helped Poland's development.

The ceremony was suddenly called off after the public outcry, though the Foreign Ministry said Friday it was merely postponed "to another mutually convenient date, which at the moment is not yet known."

A group devoted to fighting the exploitation of Biedronka employees had written to Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna to protest the award.

"You decided to honor a man whose 'outstanding contribution' is the exploitation of thousands of Polish women and men," the group wrote in the open letter, adding that Biedronka has faced prosecution for crimes against 302 people for failure to pay wages owed or committing other violations of the labor code.

Da Silva is to be honored for helping Polish economic development, creating jobs and helping develop trade ties between Poland and Portugal, the Polish Foreign Ministry said.

Schetyna defended the decision to honor da Silva on Thursday, arguing that the Jeronimo Martins group has directly hired more than 58,000 people and that its large investments have indirectly created many more jobs.