News that UK hospitality giant Whitbread, owners of Premier Inn and Costa Coffee, has pulled out of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), 18 months after it was granted foundation stage membership, is a slap in the face to its 50,000 strong UK workforce, its customers and to workers in its overseas supply chain, Unite has said.
The ETI board of directors are expected to be informed of the resignation at today’s board meeting (September 14) at which point Whitbread’s name will be removed from the register of members.
Unite has been highly critical of Whitbread’s apparent refusal in the last year to accept that the ETI’s nine good labour practice codes, which are founded on the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), apply equally to its directly employed UK workforce as to workers in its overseas supply chain. In particular, base code 2 on freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively.
Unite had big hopes that Whitbread’s ETI application signalled a willingness to improve workers’ rights and union relations in the notoriously anti-union and exploitative UK hospitality sector, but attempts at meaningful engagement were ignored.
Evidence of the lengths Whitbread was prepared to go to keep the union out, included an offer to bring in actors to play trade union officials to speak to workers, as well as gagging workers from discussing trade unions at work.
“Whitbread’s resignation from the ETI is a snub to the workforce,” said Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy. “We had high hopes that its membership would open the door to better union relations in the notoriously anti-union and exploitative UK hospitality sector.
“It is deeply disappointing that Whitbread would rather pull the plug on its application to become an accredited ETI member, than work with Unite to become a genuinely ethical and sustainable employer to its UK workforce.
“For over a year we sought to secure a union access agreement,which would have allowed union officials to meet with workers to discuss the benefits of trade union membership, in line with ETI base code 2, as well as the company’s own human rights’ policy,” he added.
“Whitbread’s UK workers have just as much a right to join and form a trade union of their choosing as workers in the company’s overseas supply chain. To suggest otherwise is absurd.
“The UK hospitality industry is fundamentally unethical,” McCarthy argued. “It is built on low pay, long hours and exploitation; workers have few rights and little power. It’s time for the industry to stop seeing unions as ‘the enemy within’ and start working with us to change and improve the way it operates.”
The ETI is an alliance of companies, NGOs and trade unions that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the globe. Members include the Body Shop, Co-op and H&M.
By signing up to the ETI, companies commit to adopting the ETI base code, which is founded on ILO conventions and is an internationally recognised code of labour practice. The ETI base code is comprised of nine labour codes, including, Employment is freely chosen (1), Freedom of association and the right to collective bargain (2), Working conditions are safe and hygienic (3) and No discrimination is practised (7).