J Sainsbury Plc: Influence / Lobbying

admin's picture



J Sainsbury Plc


Influence / Lobbying:




Sainsbury's has a great deal of influence in the areas of government and research, chiefly due to its assocation with Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who was chairman of the company until he was made Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Innovation in 1998. It may be objected that he is no longer formally a part of the Sainsbury company but he is the largest shareholder, so he benefits directly from consumers spending their money in Sainsbury's, and since he left Sainsbury's only when he entered government, his links with the company are still extremely strong.

Lobbying Groups:

Sir Clive Thompson is current deputy president and former president of the Confederation of British Industry[18], which is the British arm of UNICE, (the Union of Industry and Employers Federations of Europe)[19]. Interestingly, UNICE has been picked out by Corporate Europe Observatory for its lobbying against binding agreements on carbon emissions, (see: www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/greenhouse/european.html) which sits somewhat uncomfortably with Sainsburys' professed concern about the subject. (see Corporate Crimes) For more on UNICE, see: www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/ebsummit/factsheet2.htm

Back to top

Research and Education:

Much of the controversy surrounding Sainsburys' connection with education is the family's contribution to genetic engineering research. Lord Sainsbury of Turville contributes through his Gatsby trust, which is supposed to be a blind trust but since his funding and ownership are public knowledge, one assumes that he might have some idea what he contributes to as well.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville:
According to Friends of the Earth, the Gatsby Trust gives £ 2 million per year to the Sainsbury Laboratory based at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, which deals with molecular plant pathology and genetics. (Its web page is at: www.jic.bbsrc.ac.uk/sainsbury-lab)[20].

It also produces some of the most vocal supporters of GM crops in Britain: Phil Dale and Jonathan Jones, more information about whom can be found on the excellent Norfolk Genetic Information Network website at http://members.tripod.com/~ngin. The Daily Mail has alleged that though he does not attend meetings or make decisions, Lord Sainsbury retains the power to appoint and dismiss trustees of the Gatsby Trust. If he has chosen well he would not need to go to the meetings to ensure his views are adhered to[21]…

According to Friends of the Earth, since 1998 the Sainsbury Laboratory has also received 6 Government grants, worth £1.1 million, from the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC). The BBSRC is part of the Government Office of Science and Technology, which answers to Sainsbury as Science Minister and has won an extra £50 million in funding since he became Minister[22].

Lord Sainsbury of Turville has also made a substantial contribution to the controversial Said Business School, Oxford. His contribution is apparently the second largest after arms-broker Wafic Said's donation. Lord Sainsbury is also an honorary fellow of Worcester College, which has also benefited substantially from him[23]. The Said Business School is an intensely controversial project which has attracted criticism from arms trade campaigners, human rights campaigners, trainspotters, architecture buffs, anti-roads, anti-corporate and anti-privatisation campaigners, along with other local residents who just feel that it is an eyesore. For more on the school, see: www.corporatewatch.org.uk/news/said_business_school.html

Back to top

Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover:
Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover has also established the John Sainsbury Scholarship for postgraduate studies at University of Cape Town[24]. He, along with his brothers The Hon. Simon Sainsbury and Sir Timothy Sainsbury, also gave a large donation to the National Gallery for its extension, the Sainsbury wing[25]. The idea of national cultural institutions being funded by money from businessmen is contentious: Many believe that art should be free of purchased influence. The idea of people who profit from Sainsburys giving money to appear as generous benefactors to the nation may also grate with those who recall the damage that Sainsburys, along with other large retailers, have wrought on livelihoods and heritage both in rural areas and town centres.

J Sainsbury PLC:
The Chair in Horticulture at the Imperial College at Wye is supported by a charitable donation from Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd. Sainsbury’s and Wye College have collaborated for nearly ten years on fresh produce science, research and development[26]. £65,000 was also donated to WellBeing to fund a nutrition and pregnancy research project being undertaken by St Mary's Hospital, London[27]. This might be regarded as a positive gesture, but money given by industry has the potential to steer research, no matter how unintentionally, towards the needs of large food producers and away from small-scale, sustainable production.

Sainsbury's also has Sainsbury's School Rewards - a points redemption promotion to help schools obtain free school equipment. Research shows that customers who have registered for the scheme spend more than customers who have not registered[28], though this could be because people who spend little money rarely bother to register for such schemes.

Sainsburys has also launched Taste of Success - an initiative relating to food education in schools. Its key elements are: the Food Award Scheme (for pupils 9-14 years old), an on-line Food Product Development Case Studies (for pupils studying food technology) and Teacher Training Sessions[29]. The website is a good resource for anyone wishing to see how much our food is mucked around with before we buy it, but is sadly reflective of the current style of food technology education in schools: There are flow diagrams-a-plenty of product development and food processing, but no actual cooking.

Back to top

Links with Government:

Sir Peter Davis is chairman of the New Deal Task Force[30].

Ian Coull is a member of the Property Industry Forum[31].

Lord Sainsbury of Turville
Sainsbury's truly blurs the line between influencing the government and being the government. Lord (David) Sainsbury of Turville is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Innovation, and is responsible for the Office of Science and Technology, design, Innovation Policy, the Chemicals and Biotechnology industries, the British National Space Centre and the National Weights and Measures Laboratory

He was a member of the IPPR Commission on Public Policy and British Business from 1995 to 1997[32].

Lord Sainsbury is a shining example of all that is wrong with mixing business and government. George Monbiot, in his Fat Cats Directory, points out the following:


  • On one hand he was Chairman of J Sainsbury PLC, one of the supermarket chains subject to the Competition Commission report into alleged anti-competitive practices. On the other, as a minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, which regulates competition policy, the Competition Commission reports to his Department.
  • On one hand he was Chairman of the Food Chain Group, representing food retailing interests in the government's Foresight Programme. On the other, he is now in overall charge of the government's Foresight Programme as Minister for Science and Technology. 
  • On one hand, he is principal backer of the biotechnology company Diatech. On the other, as Science Minister, he led a US-bound delegation of the BioIndustry Association lobby group, which represents Diatech, among other companies. The DTI paid some of the group's costs.
  • On one hand he funded the construction of the Sainsbury laboratory at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, which carries out genetic engineering, and on the other, he has ultimate control of the BBSRC, a government funding body which helps to finance the Sainsbury laboratory, as well as a large proportion of biological and biotechnology research in institutions across Britain.
  • On one hand, as head of J Sainsbury, he was criticized for undermining skilled jobs in the independent retailing sector and replacing them with unskilled and unfulfilling shelf-stacking and checkout jobs. On the other, he is head of the University for Industry, whose purpose is supposedly to boost young people's skills[33].

Back to top

There are a number of further irregularities in Lord Sainsbury of Turville's involvement with GM crops. As Science Minister, he is in charge of promoting biotechnology at the Department of Trade and Industry, but as a member of the Cabinet Biotechnology Committee he has been given responsibility for national policy on biotechnology, which he is clearly not keen to delay in any way. He insists that he leaves the room when GM crops are discussed, because of his financial interests in the food industry[34]. However, controversy reared its head yet again when it emerged that he had met three officials from Monsanto in his private office on the eve of a key seminar with environmentalists. The Department of Trade and Industry confirmed the meeting had taken place but insisted that GM foods had not been the main point of the discussions[35]. As George Monbiot points out, whether his financial interests in GM are able to influence government policy directly is not the only problem. More basic is the problem of having people used to running business claiming to run a democracy, the principles of which are completely opposed to those of business, which concentrate only on enriching a small minority of people: Shareholders[36].

On an even more conspicuous level, Lord Sainsbury of Turville has given £6 million to the Labour Party in the last two years alone, and had previously given two other large donations[37].

Many have pointed to the conflict of interests between being both a large donor to the Labour party and a Minister, and point to the apparent buying of influence. It would indeed be interesting to see what would happen in the event of any incident in which the Labour party was called upon to sack him - Would they dismiss such a vital funder?

PR Companies:


Back to top

[18] www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/anrpt01/whoweare/board.htm
[19] www.esrc.ac.uk/newsociety/newsociety/whoinvests.html
[20] www.foe.co.uk/pubsinfo/infoteam/pressrel/2001/20010604000100.html
[21] [Daily Mail, 9th February 1999 http://home.intekom.com/tm_info/rw90212.htm#01]

[22] www.foe.co.uk/pubsinfo/infoteam/pressrel/2001/20010604000100.html
[23] www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/news/26may99.htm
[24] www.uct.ac.za/general/monpaper/99-no18/sainbury.htm
[25] www.nationalgallery.org.uk/about/building/sainsbury/intro.htm
[26] www.wye.ac.uk/PressReleases/press221199.html
[27] www.wellbeing.org.uk/sainsburyspress.html
[28] www.business-impact.org/bi2/case_studies/11impact.cfm
[29] www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/tasteofsuccess
[30] www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/anrpt01/whoweare/board.htm;

[31] www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/anrpt01/whoweare/board.htm;

[32] www.dti.gov.uk/ministers/ministers/sainsbury.html
[33] George Monbiot, Captive State, p. 210

[34] BBC News, 16th February 1999, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_280000/280312.stm
[35] Daily Mail, 3rd August 1999, www.iatp.org/iatp/News/news.cfm?News_ID=254,

[36] The Guardian, 30th September 1999, www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,3907519,00.html
[37] http://globalarchive.ft.com/globalarchive/article.html?id=011214001692&query=Sainsbury+Labour+donation
[38] 'Hollis UK Press & public Relations Annual' 2000-2001 (32nd edition)