Sainsbury’s shareholders have been accused of ‘prioritising short-term returns’ as they overwhelmingly voted against a call to pay all its workers the real living wage.
The supermarket group already pays all its directly employed workers a wage equal or above the current living wage rates set last November.
However, it has refused to do the same for contractors such as cleaners or security guards, while also refusing to commit to continue to match real living wages in the future at a time of rising inflation.
83% of Sainsbury’s shareholders have voted against a call to pay all staff a real living wage
The special resolution filed by non-profit group ShareAction could have guaranteed that all Sainsbury’s 189,000 workers were paid the real living wage, currently £9.90 per hour across the UK and £11.05 per hour in London, by July this year.
It was supported by some high-calibre investors including Legal & General, HSBC, Nest and and the Queen’s bank, Coutts.
But only 17 per cent of Sainsbury’s shareholders voted in favour of the resolution at today’s annual general meeting, and 83 per cent against.
The Sainsbury’s board, as well as major proxy advisers Glass Lewis and ISS, had encouraged investors to vote against the resolution.
It comes a month after Sainsbury’s boss Simon Roberts faced a backlash after his pay tripled to £3.8million – 183 times as much as an average Sainsbury’s employee.
Rachel Hargreaves, campaign manager at ShareAction, said: ‘We’re disappointed that a large proportion shareholders chose to prioritise short-term returns over the real long-term issue: rising inequality in our society.
‘As we deal with the continued effects of the cost-of-living crisis, the conversation round low pay isn’t going to go away, and both employers and investors need to step up.’
ShareAction said that supermarket staff had been recognised as key workers during the pandemic, keeping food on the table of households.
The public therefore expects them to be appropriately rewarded, yến sào hải phòng it said, yet they are one of the largest groups of low-paid workers in the country.
It said that around half of companies in the FTSE 100 – of which Sainsbury’s is a member – are accredited.
Hargreaves added that today’s vote has sent a ‘powerful message’ that Sainsbury’s should make a living wage commitment and was waiting to hear how the company will address such shareholder concerns.
Sainsbury’s chairman Martin Scicluna said he did not want the group to become an accredited living wage employer because this would reduce the company’s flexibility.
‘We are the leader in the supermarket world in paying the living wage right now,’ he said.
‘We’ve got an amazing track record of being a responsible business.
‘And there are other retailers who frankly have not demonstrated that they’re responsible,’ he said, pointing to the return of business rates relief to the Government, among other things.
‘We believe we have behaved very, very responsibly, the only difference between your co-filers and us is that we don’t want to go the full length of being accredited,’ he told ShareAction.
‘We feel that does not give us the flexibility when we’re trying to balance the needs of all the stakeholders.’