Sainsbury’s face a challenge on “the value of values” at AGM.

Sainsbury’s face a challenge on “the value of values” at AGM.

Protesters claim “Customers’ trust in Sainsbury’s is misplaced.”

Sainsbury’s new Chief Executive, Mike Coupe, will be taken to task at the company’s AGM in London this Wednesday by human rights organisations and groups working for justice for the Palestinians. A loud and lively protest outside will be matched by lobbying and questions inside the Queen Elizabeth Conference Hall as campaigners dispute Sainsbury’s claims that it sources produce ethically. They accuse the company of continuing trade deals with businesses which work in the illegal Israeli settlements, including the beleaguered company SodaStream – evidence, they say, that Sainsbury’s does not practise what it preaches.

Coupe has clearly pinned his colours to the mast. Protestorsquote a press release of October 2013 in which Coupe wrote passionately about the “value of values”. He spoke about “the new fight” he was going to pick with competitors on the battleground of ethical trade, claiming that customers “have the right to know” about the produce they are buying and that shoppers care deeply about the ethical sourcing of goods.

Campaigners aim to put Coupe to the test at the AGM. Spokesperson Hilary Smith said: “For over a year, we have been challenging Sainsbury’s to live up to its claim to be the most ethical of the high street retailers. We want Sainsbury’s to examine the practices of some of its partners in trade. In particular, we are concerned that some companies used by Sainsbury’s are complicit in breaches of international law because of their work in the illegal Israeli settlements. We feel that such companies are unfit business partners – unfit in any capacity, not just in their work in the illegal settlements. Shareholders raised these issues at last year’s AGM and were assured they would be considered seriously. Yet Sainsbury’s still stocks goods from these companies; customers buy them, believing that Sainsbury’s can be trusted to be ethical. We feel that customers’ trust in Sainsbury’s is misplaced.”

Ms. Smith cited “reliable evidence” that a number of Sainsbury’s partners, including Mehadrin, operate extensively inside illegal Israeli settlements and that they have a track record of mislabelling the origin of their produce.

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East of England, is one of the high profile supporters of the campaign.  “I’m calling on Sainsbury’s new CEO, Mike Coupe, to make a clear stance in support of human rights at the beginning of his new role”, says Taylor.. “I call on him to listen to campaigners and customers alike, and to put an end to Sainsbury’s support of companies operating in Israel’s illegal settlements. Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine is an abuse of fundamental human rights.”

 “As a supermarket that claims to take the ethical sourcing of its products seriously, it’s time for Sainsbury’s to put its words into action. The supermarket’s continued support of companies which profit from an illegal and abusive regime is unacceptable, and contradicts its stated goals. In holding its ties with these companies, Sainsbury’s puts its reputation on the line.”

The campaigners point out that in September 2013, the UK government issued its action plan, “Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business.” This reminded businesses that they should treat as a legal compliance issue the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses wherever they operate. The document also referred to the need for companies in Britain to scrutinise their supply chains.

Mike Coupe and every member of the Sainsbury’s Board have received a letter, signed by a group of eminent individuals, urging the company to dissociate itself from companies which profit from violations of international law and human rights.  A dossier of evidence against specific Israeli companies, including Mehadrin and Edom, accompanies the letter. In addition, a petition with over 5,000 signatures has been raised from Sainsbury’s customers and will be presented by Baroness Jenny Tonge at the AGM.

“This campaign will not go away,” said Smith. “After the G4S scandal, after Scarlet Johansson’s choice of Soda Stream over Oxfam, the public are increasingly aware of human rights issues. People on the street are very supportive of this campaign because it is rooted in justice, pure and simple. Over 5000 have signed our petition to Sainsbury’s. Mike Coupe must act on the values he claims to prize so highly and apply them to the human rights of Palestinians and to the rule of law in Palestine.”