Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Unite gets giant tomato into AGM, M&S hide behind GLA fig leaf

Hundreds of shareholders heard the voice of sacked Thanet Earth worker Vanda Sefer at the Marks and Spencers AGM today. Vanda spoke to delegates through a megaphone about how she has been told for the past month that there is no more work for her. Her 'offence' after working for 3 years at Thanet Earth through Kent Staff agency? She went on (a pre-agreed and signed off) holiday. And also happens to be a trade union member.

Hundreds of leaflets detailing violations at Thanet Earth were also distributed and a mound of tomatoes beside the words 'STOP EXPLOITATION' spelled out in Tomatoes were left outside the AGM hall.

Not only did Vanda have an audience with hundreds of shareholders outside the Royal Festival Hall, but also one inside with the heads of M&S's Public Relations.

Clearly rattled by the unfolding protest outside and previous protests at their stores, the execs expressed sympathy but held to the line: There’s nothing we can do until the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA) reports back next week. This was also their line on the AGM floor when questioned by a giant tomato which was reported live by The Telegraph

(16.02) Man dressed as giant tomato asks about working conditions in a tomato factory. Robert Swannell looks genuinely rattled when answering giant tomato man's question. Decades of wheeling and dealing in the City clearly didn't prepare him for arguing with people in massive fruit costumes in front of 2,000 pensioners.





The Telegraph livefeed also linked directly to our ‘Greenwash Dream’ youtube video (13:31)

Hiding behind the GLA and their report is not the answer. M&S know well that the GLA has already upheld allegations of abuse at Thanet Earth. And the abuses do not just relate to agencies employed by Thanet Earth. The elephant in the living room is the fact that workers do not have regular work and contracts and are kept in a system of permanent and deliberate precarity. Regularisation is the key to workers rights. The system and policy of work at Thanet Earth as agreed to by M&S and other supermarkets represents the institutionalisation of insecurity and a lack of basic rights - grievances not being heard, responsibilities for workers wellbeing outsourced, union organisation being busted and so on. The GLA can root out 'Bad Apple' agencies but it’s the barrel that’s rotten in the first place here.

It is also not just the GLA that monitors workers rights but also the Ethical Trading Initiative, to which M&S is a signatory, holding it responsible for the protection of workers throughout their supply chain. Article 2 stipulates that employers must adopt an open attitude towards unions* Evidence brought by workers tells the opposite story at Thanet Earth.

The ETI delivered a historical decision in June this year over the activities of supermarket supplier Cranberry Foods which had enlisted the services of notorious union busting corp ‘Burke Group’. The ETI ruled that article 2 had been violated and that supermarkets had a duty to ensure compliance with it within their supply chains. This is the first time that the ETI Secretariat has taken a decisive position specifically with regards to union busters.

In the case of Thanet Earth and its’ supermarket customers, one can argue that the use of agencies as a norm and bringing a new agency into an already precarious mix, forcing workers to ring daily for work, creating the conditions for bribery, and weeding out those unwanted – allegedly for union activity – by telling them ‘there’s no work for you’ constitutes dismissal, constructive dismissal and union busting. The following claims by Thanet Earth in response to the Unite campaign are frankly ridiculous: 'Thanks to seasonal demand, weather forecasts and events such as sporting fixtures, our requirement for labour fluctuates to such an extent that it is impossible to predict how many people we need on site further than 24 hours in advance. To permanently employ more workers than we already do would be economic suicide. Every business in our industry works this way too'.

Hydroponic growing - ie fruit and veg grown in fibreglass and chemical water under electric lights mean production 24-7 and Thanet Earth has used this to promote itself as the grower of 'the future'.  The buzzwords of 'sustainable intensification' and 'food security' applied to Thanet Earth's business focus on this type of production as regular and predictable - so how is it that the weather and he cricket could now pose a problem?  Employment of more workers is not the issue either, proper jobs and not McJobs is. Race to the bottom driven hyper-casualisation is a union-busting tactic and it has to stop. Watch This Space….

* Point 2.2 “The employer adopts an open attitude towards the activities of trade unions and their organisational activities”

Monday, 11 July 2011

Protest at Marks and Spencer AGM this Wednesday 13th July

PROTEST THIS WEDNESDAY AT MARKS AND SPENCER'S AGM
 
Unite to create a song and dance over workers rights at M&S AGM.
 
In protest at low pay and insecure labour at flagship M&S salads supplier Thanet Earth, Unite and climate justice activists will be reprising their Greenwash Dream song and dance number, recently seen in flashmobs in supermarkets across the capital.
 
What? Marks and Spencer's Annual General Meeting
Where? The Royal Festival Hall, London Southbank (Nearest tube/BR waterloo)
When? Weds July 13, from 12-2pm
 
MEET UP: 11am outside Burger King in Waterloo station
 
Activists will also be spelling out their opposition to exploitation in giant letters made of tomatoes.
 
Recently dismissed union member, Vanda Sefer will also share her story.
 
Call Unite organiser Ewa Jasiewicz for more action info: 07900 160 851
 
***************************************************************************************************************************
 
Original press release:
 
UNITE CALLING NOTE
 
11 July 2011
 
Attention:picture desks, news, business and retail correspondents
 
Where: Royal Festival Hall, London Southbank
When: Wednesday July 13, from 12-2pm
 
Unite creates a song and dance over workers rights at M&S AGM
 
Unite will be creating a song and dance at the M&S AGM in a musical protest at low pay and insecure labour at flagship M&S salad supplier, Thanet Earth
 
Union activists will reprise their song and dance number seen recently in flashmobs across M&S stores (see link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd5s2_4CU4Q). They will also be spelling out their opposition to exploitation in giant letters made of tomatoes.
 
Unite has been taking up complaints from the workforce, who pick and pack tomatoes and other salad and fruits, over alleged irregular labour conditions. The alleged offences include hostility to union organisation, bullying, taking bribes by agency supervisors and managers, and denial of holiday entitlement and pay.
 
Recently dismissed union member, Vanda Sefer will available to telling her story to delegates and the media of how she has been treated by Thanet Earth based in Kent.
 
Unite regional industrial officer, Dave Weeks said:
 
"We want to highlight the rotten working conditions at Thanet Earth. Most workers have no direct contract of employment and can be hired and fired at will. This is a major supplier to M&S which claims to be an ethical retailer. It is time for the supermarket to insist that Thanet Earth cleans up its act."
"The action comes at the same time that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) is expected to report on a catalogue of allegations submitted by Unite the Union on behalf of Thanet Earth workers."
 
"We want to tell M&S to take their commitments seriously and to use their financial muscle to get Thanet Earth to sit down in a room with Unite and M&S and resolve these serious complaints."
 
This protest comes as the GLA issues its report into Thanet Earth. The GLA has already commented in the press that they have supported our claims of breaches of legal guidelines at Thanet Earth.
 
ENDS
 
Contact: Ciaran Naidoo on 07768 931 315

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

GreenWash Dream supermarket flashmob film is live!



Thanet Gazette reveals serious breaches of guidelines exposed by Unite look set to be upheld by important Government body the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

Flashmobs target London Supermarkets over Thanet Earth sweatshop exploitation

<iframe width="560" height="349" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Vd5s2_4CU4Q" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Unite flashmobbers sing and dance. It's a greenwash dream but it could be turning into a nightmare for Thanet Earth

Friday, 17 June 2011

Guerilla Karaoke Hits Sweatshop Supermarkets in East London

Guerilla musical flashmobs hit London 'sweatshop' supermarkets

* Footage to come!*


Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencers, and Tesco stores in East London were occupied by climate justice and trade union activists protesting alleged abuse of workers at Kent greenhouse growers Thanet Earth.

The salad giant supplies supermarkets with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers all year round.

The activists dressed in green sang a version of US pop star Katy Perry's Teenage Dream, titled 'Greenwash Dream'. Lyrics reference the Ethical Trading Initiative, hydroponics, casualisation, agencies taking bribes for work, sacking of union leaders and the need for workers rights and permanent contracts.


(Photo by Guy Smallman http://www.guysmallman.com/)

Unite the Union, which has members at Thanet Earth has submitted a body of evidence to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority including accounts of years of employment without contracts, discrimination against workers taking holidays, denial of holiday pay and paid holidays, summary dismissals, bullying and union busting.

Armed with a portable amp, green wigs, cuddly peppers, and a dance routine, they serenaded shoppers and held up Thanet Earth tomatoes re-labelled 'Sweatshop Greenwash Tomatoes'.

Passers-by applauded the group as management attempted to block a camerawoman from filming.

“Our action had an immediate effect – one shopper at M&S said she would boycott the company until they put a stop to exploitation of workers at Thanet Earth”, said activist Anna Evans from Clapton.

Following a “Race to the Bottom' protest outside M&S's flagship store in Oxford Street last month the company removed all references to Thanet Earth from its' products for a week.


Unite the Union activists have called a week of direct action targeting Thanet Earth buyers Sainsbury's, Tesco, M&S and Asda from June 27th-July 2nd. 'Secret Shopper' flashmobs, 'races to the bottom', store occupations, and phone and email blockades are planned.

ENDS
Photos and footage available on request.

For interviews with Thanet Earth workers call:  Ewa Jasiewicz, organiser, South East Region, on 07900 160 851

1.Thanet Earth is part of the Fresca Group Ltd. Other companies growing at Thanet Earth are Dutch firms Rainbow Growers Group, Kaaij Greenhouses and A&A.
2.The agencies employed at Thanet Earth are Kent Staff, HRGO, Worldwide Recruitment and Red Eagle.
3.Most of the major supermarkets in the UK are signatories to the Ethical Trading Initiative base-code which states regular employment must be provided and free association and union organisation facilitated

*************************************************************************************************************************

Lyrics and link to original :

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=katy+perry+teenage+dream&aq=f

 

Greenwash Dream



You think youre green but,

You don't give us workers rights

You think youre caring

Without any real contracts

I know you rent me

You let our wages come down, right down



You say you're green but

You dont grow your veg in soil

You say you care but you leave us in doubt and toil

You promised locals jobs but you never ever gave, never gave



Lets get out of flexi work

Nothing sure

Just graft

We can work until we die

No contract

We'll be temps forever!



You make me,

feel like Im living a Greenwash Dream

You work me to the bone

I don't sleep

Youre spinning ethics but you always backtrack, yeah you always

backtrack



E-T-I

Youre all ignoring it

We dont lie

We're getting hardest hit

This is Real

We need our rights and per-ma-nent con-tracts, per-ma-nent contracts



Taking back-handers

Thats what some agencies do

Sack union leaders,

For standing right up to you

We're gonna fight back

The race to the bottom hurts

All of us



Lets go all the way on pay

No wage cuts, just fair deals

We need Just Transition now

Local food, workers rights and contracts



You make me,

feel like Im living a Greenwash Dream

You work me to the bone

I don't sleep

Youre spinning ethics but you always backtrack, yeah you always

backtrack



E-T-I

Youre all ignoring it

We dont lie

We're getting hardest hit

This is Real

We need our rights and per-ma-nent con-tracts, per-ma-nent contracts





Gonna get my hands racing

On the packhouse line

Be your greenwash dream tonight



When you casualize my life

And outsource our strife

Be your greenwash dream tonight



Yoooooooooooooou

You make me

Feel like Im living a greenwash dream

You work us to the bone

I don't sleep

Youre spinning ethics

But you always backtrack, yeah you always backtrack



E-T-I

Youre all ignoring it

We dont lie

We're getting hardest hit

This is Real

We need our rights and per-ma-nent con-tracts, per-ma-nent contracts



Gonna get my hands racing

On the packhouse line

Be your greenwash dream tonight



When you casualize my life

And outsource our strife

Be your greenwash dream tonight, tonight, tonight

Friday, 10 June 2011

Week of Action Monday June 27th - Saturday July 2nd

Stop Sweatshop Greenwash at Thanet Earth Week of Action!


video

(Race to the Bottom outside M&S Flagship store in Oxford Street. Following just one protest, the company took all references to Thanet Earth off their packaging. The brand is back on now but it shows how vulnerable supermarkets are to public pressure).

June 27th-July 2nd will see a week of action against Kent-based Supermarket salad supplier Thanet Earth.

Thanet Earth is the biggest greenhouse complex in the UK, covering an area the size of 80 football pitches. Thanet Earth supplies Asda, Marks and Spencers, Sainsburys and Tesco with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

When opened in 2008, Thanet Earth promised 550 local jobs in one of the most deprived areas of the UK. Instead the site employs 90% casualised migrant workers through 4 agencies in a system of constant precarity. Most workers have no contracts, bribes to secure shifts have been reported, and union members who have attempted to organise have found themselves out of work. Investigations by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and Ethical Trading Initiative are ongoing.

When Unite the Union’s organising campaign secured over 65% membership, Thanet Earth responded by sending in another agency, diluting membership, cutting hours, and forcing workers into calling every day to find out if they have work. Members have branded this a union busting move. 

Thanet Earth's 'Green' credentials are also questionable. Despite 'Made in Kent' looking appealing for conscious shoppers as a low food-miles alternative to Senegalese or Morroccan tomatoes, infact growing vegetables in chemicals and fibre glass, all year-round, under artificial lights and acres of plastic, and using massive amounts of water, even if rainwater - as this does not replenish the local water table and local farmers - is not an example of green growing. Supply chains stretched by lorry transport around the country are still carbon intensive and undermine localised production and delivery. 

The 'factory vegetable' model serving carbon-intensive supermarkets also undermines fair prices and ramps up competition for local farmers. Whichever way you look at it, whether as the future of 'food security' or 'sustainable intensification' Thanet Earth fails the test on both upholding human rights and climate justice.

Enough is enough! Unite members have called a week of direct action targeting Thanet Earth, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S and agency HRGO to push for union rights and recognition and an end to casualisation.

From Monday June 27th- Saturday July 2nd , ‘Secret Shopper’ flashmobs, store occupations, pickets, ‘Races to the Bottom’, and phone and email blockades are planned – see http://www.stopsweatshopgreenwash.blogspot.com/

Thanet Earth and the supermarkets accepting sweatshop veg will also be a target in the June 30th day of strike solidarity action in London.

Join in the fun! Pick a store, call your friends, we’ll send you leaflets, and get an action going in your area. Email
stopsweatshopgreenwash@gmail.com or call 07900 160 851 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            07900 160 851      end_of_the_skype_highlighting

For more info and materials see: http://www.stopsweatshopgreenwash.blogspot.com/