Unions have raised serious concerns about conditions for workers employed along supermarket supply chains in the UK. Pay and working conditions can be negatively affected as supermarkets squeeze suppliers for goods at lower prices or relocate in search of cheaper products. The major food retailers can exert undue pressure on suppliers causing job losses in food processing companies that simply cannot produce goods at the prices Tesco and their competitors wish to pay.
Boycott Workfare campaign
A number of UK supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsburys were implicated at the start of 2012 of being involved in 'workfare' schemes. Such schemes require jobseekers to 'work without pay' and undermines pay and conditions for employed staff, according to Boycott Workfare.
Unite "Look Behind the Meat Label" campaign
Unite has been campaigning in Supermarket supply chains such as the Red and White Meat Sectors since December 2007. This began by publicising the harsh conditions many workers in the UK experience when employed by companies supplying meat to some of the major Supermarkets. In 2011 Unite launched a campaign for Sainsburys to pay their staff a living wage. Since then, the union has also been campaigning against the 'sweatshop conditions' at suppliers of Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Asda. Unite works towards its ultimate goal of ensuring the highest ethical standards in the treatment of customers and to insist upon the highest ethical standards for workers employed by companies throughout the supply chain.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) meat sector inquiry
In March 2010 the EHRC released its findings from its "Inquiry into recruitment and employment in the meat and poultry processing sector". The report reveals evidence of the widespread mistreatment and exploitation of migrant and agency workers in the sector, and makes recommendations including supermarkets improving their auditing of suppliers; processing firms and agencies improving recruitment practices, working environments and the ability of workers to raise issues of concern; and for the government to provide sufficient resources for the Gangmasters’ Licensing Agency to help safeguard the welfare and interests of workers.
The Commission is now reviewing action taken over the next 12 months by supermarkets, processing firms and recruitment agencies, and will consider taking enforcement action if necessary.
The Commission launched its first ever Inquiry into a key sector of the economy in October 2008, focusing on the UK's multi-billion pound meat industry for evidence of employment abuse and discrimination. Please see Unite's press release and the Statutory Notice and Terms of Reference for the inquiry. The meat sector is a significant industry employing some 40,000 workers across Britain engaged in processing and packaging meat for sale in supermarkets and retailers.
The GMB and Asda-Walmart
The GMB organises workers in food and drink manufacture, retail and distribution.
From 2006 to the GMB has been fighting for union recognition and collectyive bargaining at Asda Wal-Mart. In 2006 industrial action was threatened by GMB members employed in their 20 distribution depots across the UK. The GMB was seeking the establishment of proper national bargaining structures between the company and GMB covering pay, conditions and union facilities. Action was called off two days before it was planned to begin.
In February 2006 Asda WalMart was ordered to pay £850,000 for breaking new trade union laws by offering illegal inducements to workers to quit the GMB union. Some 340 drivers and warehouse men at a Washington, Durham, distribution depot were offered a 10% pay rise if they left the union.
Very Little Helps is a website run by present Tesco employees and their families. It aims to enable employees to help each other with problems, share information and stories, and release work-related frustrations.