Campaigners pushing Britain’s biggest employers to pay their staff real living wages claim to have sent a powerful message after nearly a sixth of Sainsbury’s shareholders voted in favor of a resolution that would have brought the policy into the second group of supermarkets in the country.
ShareAction, which has won support from investment firms such as Legal & General Investment Management, HSBC, Fidelity International and Coutts, the Queen’s Bank, for the resolution, said it was happy with the outcome despite the fact that it fell well short of the 75% support required to pass the resolution at Sainsbury’s annual meeting on Thursday.
The campaign group said it plans to target similar motions at other companies in the future and will continue to lobby shareholder groups.
The living wage – currently set at £11.05 in London and £9.90 outside the capital – is calculated each year and overseen by a commission drawn from sectors including business, academia and the public sector.
Sainsbury’s pays the living wage to its 171,000 direct employees in over 1,400 stores in the UK. However, it is not fully accredited with the Living Wage Foundation program, as this would require the policy to be extended to contract workers such as cleaners and security guards employed by other companies such as the leasing specialist. Mitie outsourcing.
Rachel Hargreaves, campaign manager at ShareAction, said: “Today’s vote sent a powerful message from shareholders that Sainsbury’s should commit to providing a living wage for all of its workers. Investors have shown that they can and do support wage increases for low earners.
“Similarly, we are disappointed that a large proportion of shareholders have chosen to favor short-term returns rather than the real long-term problem: the rise of inequality in our society. As we face the continuing effects of the cost of living crisis, the conversation around low wages is not going to stop, and employers and investors need to step up.
ShareAction’s Martin Buttle said the intent of the resolution was “to try to move an entire industry, not just a retailer.” He said Sainsbury’s was being targeted as it was seen as more likely to move than other supermarkets because it had already “taken a leadership role in other aspects of responsible business and pay”.
Just under 17% of shareholders backed Sainsbury’s resolution. The vast majority followed the advice of shareholder advisory groups Glass Lewis and ISS, as well as Sainsbury’s board, to vote against.
Martin Scicluna, chairman of Sainsbury’s, thanked investors for their “overwhelming votes of support and confidence”. He defended the retailer’s record at the meeting, saying it was ‘a leader in the supermarket world when it comes to paying the living wage’ and was among the first to raise pay for staff at the supermarket. workshop this year, with soaring inflation triggering a cost-of-living crisis.
He said Sainsbury’s had pledged to pay at least real living wages to employees, but did not want to be fully accredited to the national scheme, which would tie it to decisions made by another organisation.
This year, for example, the Living Wage Foundation is expected to bring forward its final raise by a month, to October, due to pressure on household finances. “To effectively balance the needs of customers, colleagues, suppliers and shareholders, we must preserve the right to make independent business decisions not determined by a separate body,” Scicluna said.
ShareAction’s call for change was backed at the meeting by Labor MP Siobhain McDonagh and the Equality Trust.
McDonagh said: “The cost of living crisis is hitting those with the lowest wages the hardest, including shop cleaners and security guards. I support [the living wage resolution]. As an organization that has recorded a staggering £721m profit in the past few months, what reason is there to disagree? »
A shareholder at the meeting said Sainsbury’s decision to exclude contractors from its guarantee to pay at least the independently verified living wage meant their wages were in effect “subsidized by the taxpayer with universal credit”, and they suggested the company cut the pay going to the retailer’s chief executive, Simon Roberts, who received £3.8m last year, a deal that ‘far exceeds the pay of the workforce. of work”.