Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Brief Note on the Tesco Scandal

By the looks of things, the Tesco scandal has come to a conclusion. Sort of. In that Tesco have come out and suggested that the DWP perhaps shouldn't mandate unpaid "work experience" with the threat of cutting off benefits to the non-compliant. They have not (as Sainsbury's, Waterstone's and TK Maxx have) stated that they will no longer support the scheme, so it's not exactly a win. In fact, none of this is a win. Whoever was responsible for the decision on behalf of any of those major retailers (and countless more) to participate in the scheme in the first place clearly did not foresee "major PR nightmare" as one of the potential consequences, or else they wouldn't have agreed to do it. And, of course, it shouldn't be the PR nightmare that worries them - it should, perhaps, be the fact that they willingly participated in state-sanctioned (nay, encouraged) slave-labour*. But that is not, of course, their biggest concern.

Would Tesco have urged the DWP to reconsider the manner in which this "work experience" is mandated were it not for the fact that they ended up on the wrong side of a vitriolic public backlash when the details of their involvement in the scheme became widely-known? Call me cynical, but it seems very unlikely that they would.

Gestures, like TK Maxx ending their participation, or Tesco calling for changes to the way the scheme is carried out, may be conciliatory. But they shouldn't be enough to make us forgive and forget. The jobseekers who were and are forced to work in this way don't have the luxury of voting with their wallets, but I do, and so do you.

Forced labour is forced labour, whether it's in a North Korean detention camp or in your local supermarket. And it shouldn't take public outcry to make big business finally able to tell right from wrong.

The only good to come out of this is further proof that social media, historic home of cat videos and being able to slag off people you don't like facelessly and without recrimination, is an excellent medium for slagging off big faceless corporations without recrimination when they do things you don't like. It's a fine expression of democracy, and I'm glad it works.

*I realise that the "workers" on these "work experience" schemes were receiving Jobseeker's Allowance in exchange for their work. I do not consider this to be payment, nor do I believe that JSA should be given by the state in exchange for anything other than a willingness on the part of the individual to do as much as they can to find work (short of enforced, unpaid work experience).


  1. I guess the original idea was 'unpaid short-term internships for the unemployed as a route to restarting a career', which sounds good in principle (I was forced to do a similar thing when I was 16). But I agree it was cruelly exploited by Poundland and the like to get some free Christmas-period shelf-stackers.

  2. You're confusing the work experience placements arranged by DWP with Mandatory Work Activity (MWA).

    Work experience is offered to JSA claimants aged 18-24 who have been out of work for at least 3 months. (16-17 year olds are offered it from the day they sign on).

    These placements are not mandatory. If JSA claimants agree to sign up they have a week's grace in which they can decide that the placement is not for them. The penalty only comes into effect if they refuse to complete the placement after that first week.

    What's crazy is that under Labour you would automatically lose your JSA if you took on a work experience placement that lasted any longer than two weeks.