We confronted the M&S board with 60,000 voices against the Daily Mail

Over the past few months, we’ve been lobbying Marks and Spencer to drop their funding of the Daily Mail and its hate-filled, divisive reporting of migrants and refugees. Together, over 63 thousand Global Justice Now and SumOfUs supporters have petitioned and emailed M&S boss Steve Rowe and hundreds of us have sneaked campaign materials into M&S stores.

Yesterday was a big day for M&S – their Annual General Meeting, with board members, shareholders and staff from around the country, coming together to discuss the company’s future. So we wanted to make a splash.

Thanks to hundreds of supporter donations through a crowdfunder run by SumOfUs, we were able to make sure that M&S bosses and AGM attendees couldn’t ignore us.

We hung a massive banner right in front of the train station entrance where all the M&S staff and shareholders were arriving for the AGM – putting our demand right where it couldn’t be missed. Our team of staff and volunteers held placards and gave out leaflets to share more information about the campaign. 

We had a couple of negative responses, but the amount of people, M&S shareholders, staff working at the event, and passers by giving us thumbs up and cheering us on, spurred us on as we went into the AGM.

Going inside, we had one main objective – to present the letter that we had co-signed with 72 migrant rights and anti-racism organisations, to the M&S board, asking them to reconsider their stance on advertising with the Daily Mail. We registered our question and hoped it would be picked out in front of hundreds of shareholders.

As the conference opened, we were all amazed that M&S’s CEO Steve Rowe chose to spend the first part of his opening statement to address our campaign, and defend his stance. We’ve clearly ruffled some feathers.

After waiting patiently for questions and responses about rift margins and shoe sizes, I finally got the opportunity to pose our question.

Since Steve Rowe had already addressed our initial demand, I decided to form a rebuttal based on his key arguments.

Here’s what I said:

“My name is Kahra I'm here with Global Justice Now. Steve you might have noticed some of the 16,000 emails our supporters sent you about advertising with the Daily Mail.

“So thanks to Steve for addressing some of our concerns in your opening statement. I am, however, not clear or satisfied by this response.

“M&S may want to remain non-partisan, but the Daily Mail is an outlet that sows division. Its biased reporting against migrants has been specifically called out in various reports for contributing to the divisions, hate crimes and racist violence we have seen spike in the UK in recent months.

“Now, you don't just pay for advertising space here, M&S actually offers vouchers and discounts to Mail readers, actively promoting this content.

“In terms of taking stance, I was so glad to see that M&S did, this weekend, celebrate London Gay Pride with a very popular Facebook video, you did recently pull advertising from Google and Youtube over extremist content next to your brand. And you do continue to push the Plan A agenda based on values of sustainability and environmentalism. As a well-loved British institution your actions and spending, do legitimise and support views which have a massive social impact.

So, in terms of your continued advertising in the Daily Mail not threatening your brand image, we have a petition here - which I really hope you’ll let me hand to you and consider - of 63,000 people who would disagree that that wouldn’t threaten your brand image, along with the 16,000 emails in your inbox Steve, and that is just from a couple of months.

Robert, you spoke about M&S having a duty beyond profits. We, and the 72 migrant rights and anti-racism organisations from right across the UK, who have co-signed a letter to the board, would agree, wholeheartedly.

So I ask the board again to please to consider, the place the M&S wants to take in terms of its brand image, in terms of its approach to community, to its customers and their families who are affected in a very real way by this issue, and in terms of its place in history, through the outlets it supports through advertising contracts. So please I hope you accept and consider our petition”

It was totally nerve wracking, and along with a handful of claps and murmurs of support, there were a few members of the audience making very clear their displeasure with the intervention. But I knew I had the backing of 63,000 Global Justice Now and SumOfUs supporters, and the 72 hardworking and frontline groups who had signed our letter. And we, together, had the ear of the top decision makers at M&S and their most committed customers.

After I’d spoken, and had a half-hearted response from chairman of the board Robert Swannell, we had the chance to read our letter in full to the board, as Global Justice Now’s South East London group member, Chris Brody, was called to address the panel. 
Chris read the co-signed letter in full to the board, again to a mixed response of impatient murmurs, drowned out by a strong applause from some supportive M&S shareholders in the audience. 

After the AGM, I was able to meet with chairman Robert Swannell and CEO Steve Rowe to talk in person about the campaign and hand in our letter and petition. While they stuck to their guns about not wanting to take a partisan approach, they said they would continue to listen and to assess the situation. They’re not convinced that they would have the backing of their customers if they were to pull their ads and special deals from the Daily Mail, and reading between the lines, it seems they’re not keen to take such a bold step, that could risk profits, for the sake of living by the company values.

We also found out that M&S bosses have been in contact with the Daily Mail over our campaign. In fact, conversations have been had with the paper’s editor Paul Dacre, over M&S’ approach to the situation.

So we know that we’re being noticed. Together we’ve made sure the M&S board, staff, and shareholders are hearing our message loud and clear. And together we can keep piling on the pressure, and prove to M&S that their customers would support them if they decided to cut ties with the Daily Mail in a bid to stand up against racism.

If you’d like to join in the campaign and haven’t yet emailed Steve Rowe yet, you can do so here.

Or if you’ve already done that, lots of us are posting comments on M&S’s recent Facebook video celebrating Gay Pride to say “that’s great - now let’s stand up for migrants too”

Thanks for being part of it!

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M&S

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