Sainsbury’s Supermarket Pressured to Boycott Israel, Electronic Intifada 2014. Available from: https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/michael-deas/sainsburys-supermarket-pressured-over-israeli-land-grab-firms
J Sainsbury Plc: Corporate Crimes
Promoting GM Food
(See also Influence section)
Since Lord Sainsbury of Turville’s departure, J Sainsbury PLC has steered well clear of promoting GM crops in its own name, but with Lord Sainsbury’s and Christopher Stone of Diatech’s large shareholdings in the company, money spent at Sainsbury’s is still likely to support biotechnology, whether through funding research through the Gatsby Trust, or through investments in Diatech and Innotech (which are backed by Lord Sainsbury), or through the large donations which Lord Sainsbury has given to the Labour party, (which certainly appear to have brought Lord Sainsbury rewards in the shape of a peerage and an appointment as Science and Technology Minister, and in turn have promoted his agenda.)
According to the Guardian, Lord Sainsbury owns, though his ownership of Diatech, a biotechnology patent, and in the December 1997 Register of Lords’ Interests, before he was made a minister, he declared that he was a ‘holder of licensed plant biotechnology patent’. However, Lord Sainsbury has denied the Guardian’s allegation that the patent is the cauliflower mosaic promoter, which was at the centre of the Arpad Pusztai affair.
Christopher Stone owns 5% stake in Sainsburys (see Shareholder section) and is also the Chief Executive of Diatech. Money spent in Sainsburys stores is also enriching this man and his support for biotechnology.
Lord Sainsbury has also lent his support to the extremely controversial cloning of human embryo cells for gene therapy.
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Undue Influence On Government
(See also Influence section for information on Lord Sainsbury of Turville)
In July 1997 John Prescott overruled Richmond council’s objection to a huge out-of-town Sainsbury store. Tony Blair denied it had anything to do with Lord Sainsbury’s £2 million donation to the Labour party.
Destroying Small Farmers
The price which farmers receive for their produce frequently fails to cover the cost of production, and consequently only farmers which produce on a very large scale and can therefore produce more cheaply can afford to carry on this way. For others, spiralling debt has become the norm and has forced many out of business. Despite the general culture of isolation and despair in farming, several protests have taken place against supermarkets. It is difficult to be precise about the scale of the problems encountered by suppliers in their dealings with supermarkets because farmers are too afraid to lose their contracts to speak openly. John Breach of the Fruit Growers’ Association described the risk of being de-listed for raising objections to terms and conditions as ‘very real’.
Many of the criticisms levelled at supermarkets by suppliers do not specify which is involved, because of a fear of losing contracts.
As the government’s Competition Commission found, many suppliers will not talk about their experiences, nor even fill in questionnaires. The Commission’s report is available at: www.competition-commission.org.uk/reports/446super.htm#full
Supermarkets claim that they cannot set prices because they buy from processors not directly from farmers, and therefore pay market prices, which not allowed to be fixed. This, on one hand, is a result of World Trade Organisation policy, and shows how unfair these rules are towards small producers who are not allowed to systematically receive a fair price for their products. On the other hand, Sainsbury’s can take part in fairly trading tea and coffee, so there is no reason why it could not introduce lines of fairly traded farm products. As a company at the top of the supply chain, Sainsbury’s could, if it believed in a fair price, instigate a fair trade system for farm products.
Another favourite argument is that the price paid by retailers is not the most important issue, rather that farmers are suffering from the high rate of exchange of the pound, which gives them relatively less subsidy money. This is also a favourite argument of the National Farmers Union, but it is really quite peripheral. The reason why farmers need so much subsidy money in the first place is because they have been paid less and less for their produce over the years. Consumers should pay an honest price which covers the costs of the producers, and then subsidies would not be needed, since subsidies are a symptom of processors and retailers offloading costs onto taxpayers. It should be noted that so-called ‘free’ trade is not an answer to this because it is basically the same as we have now, except without the cushion of subsidies, and it results in a race to the bottom for standards and prices, which means only the largest can survive.
Sainsbury’s cannot be the saviour of British farming because it cannot deal on a human scale. It can only achieve apparently cheap prices through dealing in bulk and this excludes small producers. Supermarkets do sometimes begin to deal with small producers, but only with a view to making them larger and more ‘economical’ to deal with.
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Causing Climate Change
Like every other supermarket, Sainsbury’s transports it goods far further than necessary because it can only deal in bulk and profits from economies of scale if it has only a few distribution depots. Even if food is produced near to the shop where it is bought, it will at least have been driven to a regional distribution centre and back, and probably further if it has been processed or packaged. Sainsbury’s is kind enough to show us how much CO2 its supermarkets emit at: www.j-sainsbury.com/csr/envrep2001/html/perform/energyindex.html
and its transport at: www.j-sainsbury.com/csr/envrep2001/html/perform/transportindex.html
It has made improvements in its transport but its supermarkets have diminished the effect of this. Sainsbury’s Environmental Report 2000 claims that the chain had reduced its transport by 3.27 million kilometres per year since 1997, which does indeed sound impressive, but it makes one wonder how many kilometres they were doing in the first place and why?
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Having An Unhealthily Long food Chain
In December 2001, the Guardian alleged that Sainsbury’s had been selling chicken breasts with altered “use-by” dates. The supermarket chain said that the chicken breasts were no longer on sale and it was shocked by the Guardian’s findings. It has launched an inquiry. Following allegations by a worker at one of Sainsbury’s suppliers, the Guardian investigated the giant Lloyd Maunder poultry plant in Devon – which supplies 20% of all Sainsbury’s fresh chicken, and found:
- Replacement use-by labels being applied, adding an extra 48 hours to the shelf life given by the previous processor
- “Portioned” chicken being brought in from a Wolverhampton firm, GMB, which sources some of its meat from Europe (although the chicken in question was labelled as British Farm Standard) and is not approved by Sainsbury’s asa supplier.
Sainsbury’s says the food labelling regulations have not been breached: “The use-by dates on the packs are not use-by dates as defined in the regulations.” The Guardian observed GMB use-by dates of November 25 on vacuum packs of chicken breasts – six days after they had been killed. When they arrived at the Lloyd Maunder factory, they were repackaged with new labels carrying use-by dates of November 27. This brought the chilled chicken up to the maximum age permitted by Sainsbury’s – eight days old.
Sainsbury’s says it can trace all its chicken back to approved and inspected slaughterhouses, but the Guardian’s evidence showed that in the case of the chicken breasts sold as part of a “buy one, get one free offer”, it did not know that a sub-supplier was involved.
Andrew Maunder, a director of Lloyd Maunder, said chicken from GMB Meats had been repacked for Sainsbury’s but that it was meat originally sold to GMB by Lloyd Maunder. “It is our understanding that the product supplied to Sainsbury’s is not only British but from our own source”. Lloyd Maunder had reassured Sainsbury’s that outside suppliers were only used to help with this one-off promotion.
Even if no regulations were actually broken, this sorry tale tells us a lot about the strange way we cart our food around before we eat it.
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Effects On Communities
The appearance of a new Sainsbury’s store has much the same effect on communities as with other supermarkets: People are seduced by having everything under one roof, usually with cheap and convenient parking nearby, and begin to desert smaller traders, thus causing the decline of high streets, and resulting unemployment. Much more on this topic can be found at: www.corporatewatch.org.uk/profiles/food_supermarkets/supermarkets.html#Anchor-Destroying-35882
Brighton residents are currently trying to stop Sainsbury’s building a store on the railway station goods yard site (more information at:www.solarcity.co.uk/BUDD), and a proposed new store is also meeting opposition in Westbury on Trym, where there are at least 7 supermarkets within approximately four miles already, including a Wal Mart. [See forthcoming Corporate Watch briefing Checkout Chuckout].
Sainsburys and Tesco “have been fiercely criticised by the Citizen Organising Foundation for charging higher prices in poor areas than rich ones.” This disgraceful strategy seems to rely on the poor being more of a captive market then the wealthy and rather exposes all the concern supermarkets periodically show for their less well-off customers when they defend marketing strategies such as loss-leaders.
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Cutting Health And Safety Corners
In 1998 an inquest jury found that Maurice Disney, a forklift truck driver for Sainsbury’s, had been unlawfully killed in an accident at work. A safety switch on his forklift had been disconnected and it went out of control and crushed him. An independent engineer told the inquest that the accident would never have happened if the truck had been properly maintained. Sainsbury’s admitted the safety breaches and were fined £425,000.
Aiding Animal Abuse
According to the Financial Times, Lord Sainsbury was involved in pressing the Royal Bank of Scotland to prolong a Pounds 22.6m loan to Huntingdon Life Sciences in a last ditch attempt to save the drug-testing company threatened with receivership. Lord Sainsbury spoke twice to senior Royal Bank executives and is thought to have stressed the damage that would be done to its reputation, especially with other pharmaceutical companies, if it refused to delay.
According to Uncaged, the Pharmaceutical Industry Competitiveness Task Force (PICTF) was set up following a meeting in November 1999 between the Prime Minister and the CEOs of Astra Zeneca, Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham. Lord Sainsbury chaired the working group that discussed how to weaken vivisection regulations.
Proposals by Cambridge University to build a multimillion pound primate research centre near the village of Girton, north of Cambridge, were unanimously rejected by the local authority, but in a letter written by Lord Sainsbury, and seen by The Observer, the Minister has given full backing to the project, which he describes as ‘nationally important'.
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Revealed: Lord Sainsbury’s interest in key gene patent. The Guardian, 16 Feb 1999
 BBC News, 16th February 1999, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_280000/280312.stm
 The Daily Express, 4th October 1999.
 Monbiot, George, Captive State, MacMillan, 2000, p.199-200
 George Monbiot, Captive State, Macmillan, 2000 p.184
 J Sainsbury plc, Environmental Report 2000, p. 10
 Dates altered on chicken sold at Sainsbury’s, The Guardian, Thursday December 6, 2001
 George Monbiot, Captive State, MacMillan, 2000, p.186
 Confederation of British Wool Textiles, Health and Safety News, Issue No. 23, January 2000, www.cbwt.co.uk/health/hsnews23jan.pdf
 Move to save drug-test group. Financial Times, 17th January 2001 www.shac.net/archives/010117a.html
 Fury Over Green Belt Lab. The Observer, Sunday 4th November 2001
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.
Sir Clive Thompson is current deputy president and former president of the Confederation of British Industry, which is the British arm of UNICE, (the Union of Industry and Employers Federations of Europe). 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
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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).
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…
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.
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. 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
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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. 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. 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. £65,000 was also donated to WellBeing to fund a nutrition and pregnancy research project being undertaken by St Mary’s Hospital, London. 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, 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. 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.
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Links with Government:
Sir Peter Davis is chairman of the New Deal Task Force.
Ian Coull is a member of the Property Industry Forum.
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.
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.
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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. 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. 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.
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.
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?
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 [Daily Mail, 9th February 1999 http://home.intekom.com/tm_info/rw90212.htm#01]
 George Monbiot, Captive State, p. 210
 BBC News, 16th February 1999, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_280000/280312.stm
 Daily Mail, 3rd August 1999, www.iatp.org/iatp/News/news.cfm?News_ID=254,
 The Guardian, 30th September 1999, www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,3907519,00.html
 ‘Hollis UK Press & public Relations Annual’ 2000-2001 (32nd edition)
Further Links, Contacts and Resources
The Guardian, 30th September 1999, www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,3907519,00.html
The Competition Commission Report is available online at: www.competition-commission.org.uk/reports/446super.htm#full
George Monbiot, Captive State, MacMillan, 2000.
For information on groups opposing new Sainsbury’s stores, see forthcoming Corporate Watch Briefing ‘Checkout Chuckout’.