Campaigning to curb supermarket power


There are few official statistics of homeworkers in the UK, however the Labour Force Survey in 2011 found there were around 3.83 million homeworkers in the UK, a rise from 2.3 million in 1997. Many of these homeworkers are women and approximately 600,000 women are engaged in various manufacturing processes involving the assembly, packing and making a diverse range of goods and products such as greetings cards, assorted gift packs, stationery items, gift wrap and tags, hosiery and socks, clothing, cosmetic and beauty items destined for sale in supermarkets and high street retailers.

Homeworkers are undoubtedly one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups, often facing conditions that fall far below minimum standards laid down by International and national labour law. However, for many, homework can be decent work providing a much-needed income, by offering a way to combine earning a living with a particular domestic situation, such as caring responsibilities for small children or elderly relatives.

Although supermarkets do not employ homeworkers directly many of their suppliers do. Suppliers to supermarkets are located both in the UK and abroad but many everyday products and items sold in supermarkets are made, packaged and assembled by homeworkers here in the UK. The National Group on Homeworking became aware in the mid-1990s, for example, that within the cracker sector, retailers were increasing pressure on suppliers by moving orders to other manufacturers, or threatening to remove order. The withdrawal of orders by a major retailer or supermarket can have devastating consequences for suppliers, and also for the homeworkers working for the suppliers. Manufacturers are being forced to constantly find cheaper and cheaper ways of manufacturing products: one way is to pay the workforce below the National Minimum Wage, and to avoid fulfilling employment rights; another way is to relocate production overseas.

For more information please visit Homeworkers Worldwide UK, an NGO supporting home-based workers.