On Saturday 11th December the Leeds No Sweat Group along with the National Group on Homeworking presented the Asda store in Pudsey with a Giant Christmas card asking them to improve Rights and Respect for UK Homeworkers. This was part of a national campaign of action outside stores over the country.
The Giant card, had been signed by over 100 hundred people during action and awareness raising stalls in Leeds, placed several demands on Asda. It asked them to:
- Negotiate fair prices
- Make labour standards a key sourcing criterion and to be prepared to pay suppliers more if they can demonstrate that homeworkers are working in decent conditions
- Give commitment to suppliers
- Set adequate delivery times
- Make respect for workers rights integral to company vision and practice
- Strengthen the ETI
- Provide information and transparency along with independent systems of monitoring that protect and do not jeopardise homeworker livelihoods.
Homeworkers are one of the most vulnerable and low paid groups of workers in the UK, the majority who are women, pack, label and assemble a range of products which are then sold within major highsteet stores. At this time of year homeworkers are heavily involved in the packing of greetings cards, gift wrap and tags and also the assembly of novelty Christmas goods. Up until recently homeworkers packed almost all the Christmas crackers we buy from major UK retailers however when homeworkers complained about being paid wages as low as £1.40 per hour companies moved a great deal of cracker production overseas to China in search of ever lower prices. This level of double exploitation is not acceptable.
Many homeworkers are not paid the National Minimum Wage, others are denied basic health and Safety protection and employment rights and some work late into the night or go for weeks with no income at all. Because these workers are so hidden they have little opportunity to organise and often find that when they complain about poor conditions the work simply disappears, as one homeworker stated ‘They can do what they want, you have no employment rights. The company have you on a string, at their convenience and this should not be allowed’.
The National Group on Homeworking has launched a campaign in the lead up to Christmas in order to place pressure on the Big 4 supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Safeway-Morrisons, Sainsbury’s) who have homeworkers within their supply chains. Retailers are being held to account over guidelines to which they have agreed within the Ethical Trading Initiative and are being asked to explain how they ensure that homeworkers rights are upheld and their livelihoods protected. It is ultimately the purchasing practices and continued demand for low prices that result in many suppliers paying unfair wages and placing huge pressure on homeworkers in order to ensure goods are delivered in the quickest and cheapest way. Actions outside stores such as the one held in Pudsey have been a major part of the campaign to both raise awareness and campaign for change. Local No Sweat groups have been heavily involved in these actions which have taken place in Manchester, Burnley, Nottingham, Oxford, Leicester, Norwich, Sheffield and Central London.
We are also targeting Government to call for a revision in Employment status, as under current employment legislation this merely provides a further loophole for companies to evade giving homeworkers the most basic of employment rights.