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”