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Equal Treatment for UK Agency Meat Workers: Tell Marks & Spencer to 'Look Behind the Label'!

Posted to the IUF website 26-Feb-2008

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Members of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and labour rights supporters picketing Marks and Spencer's flagship store on February 27 in support of the T&G campaign for equal rights for agency meat workers. CTU unions taking part included the IUF-affiliated Catering And Hotels Industries Employees General Union and the Clothing Industry, Clerical and Retail Trade Employees General Union. The ITUC/GUF/HKCTU Hong Kong Liaison Office also participated in the action. The store management failed to send a representative to accept a letter calling for action on the meat issue, so it was taped to the entrance door.

The T&G section of the IUF's UK affiliate Unite is stepping up its campaign for equity for UK meat workers. Marks & Spencer, the UK retailer, is best known to consumers abroad for its line of clothing. But in the UK M&S is a full-line retailer with an important share of the food sector, including meat. M&S has also invested massively in its Corporate Social Responsibility profile, claiming it insists on the highest standards for its suppliers. M&S urges consumers to "Look behind the label" for proof of their high ethical and social standards. The T&G has looked behind the label, and found rampant casualization and abusive exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers in meat companies producing for M&S.

The T&G first raised its concerns about the situation of meat workers within the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), of which M&S is a prominent member. An internal report commissioned within the ETI confirmed that a permanent two-tier workforce has opened up in the meat industry in the UK, where mainly migrant agency workers are employed on inferior terms and conditions than directly employed staff often doing the same jobs. Agency workers typically get minimum pay, are constrained to use agency accommodation, receive no sick pay or benefits and work erratic and unpredictable schedules, often being sent home unpaid when there is no work. Up to 20% of UK meat workers, including those supplying M&S, are working under these highly abusive conditions, undermining standards for the sector as a whole.

The union highlighted these issues with demonstrations last year, supported by IUF affiliates in other countries, calling on M&S to insist that its suppliers act to ensure equity for all meat workers. The company's response has so far been confined to wooden statements that its suppliers are in conformity with the minimum legal provisions.

The campaign therefore continues, and will be expanding to the many countries around the world where M&S has franchises. Retailers in particular those who vaunt their "ethical" credentials and allegiance to "socially responsible" sourcing - can and must insist on equitable treatment for all workers employed in their supply chains.

Members of the IUF-affiliated agrofood and tourism unions in Croatia distributing leaflets at two Marks & Spencer locations in Zagreb on February 27.

To support the campaign, you can send a message to M&S corporate management by clicking here. Copies will be automatically sent to the T&G and to the IUF secretariat.