Levi's 501
Levi's 501

NEW YORK, Nov 21, 2001/ — Levi Strauss’s legal battle with British supermarket chain Tesco is over, and the jeans giant is victorious.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has ruled that Levi Strauss has the right to limit imports of its denim products from outside the European Union. It said that retailers such as Tesco must receive explicit permission to sell trademarked goods imported from the U.S. and other non-EU states.

The legal action began three years ago when Tesco began selling Levi’s 501 jeans at drastically reduced prices. Levi’s UK operations refused to supply the chain with their product, so Tesco went around them, buying 45,000 pairs of jeans from a manufacturer in Mexico.

Levi Strauss didn’t want its clothes sold alongside grocery products in the mass-market store, and worried about service standards. “We are not saying you need a university degree to sell jeans,” said Levi Strauss spokesperson Mark Elliot last January. “But if a person is cutting bacon and filling shelves one minute, it’s not possible for them to sell jeans as well.”

Tesco director John Gildersleeve countered that, “British customers are losing out because the brands are trying to protect Fortress Europe and keep lower prices out.”

Tesco is of course disappointed at today’s ruling, and had been confident that it would prevail in the case. “It is very disappointing for customers,” a spokesman lamented. “We had a tremendous opportunity here to buy from places like America and that has been denied to us for the time being.” Tesco said it will carry on its campaign and write UK Secretary for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt urging the European community to review the law.

The groups also said it will continue buying Levi’s jeans in other EU countries and re-selling them for cheap. It expects to sell more than $200 million worth of these “grey market” imports this year.