Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I'm Boycotting Tesco

I've been boycotting Tesco. Unfortunately I'm not sure they've noticed.

My boycott is almost three months old and whilst I possibly wasn't spending excessive amounts there (£6,500 a year's a lot to me) I still thought they might've spotted that I'm not aimlessly wandering around their aisles.

I once interviewed the guy behind Clubcard and he told me that if someone stopped shopping with them they would know 'within three weeks'. Perhaps they now make so much money that they just don't care?

For over 10 years I've used Tesco almost exclusively as my main supermarket, my retailer of choice. I have some affection for their layout, for their range of goods and for their prices.

As someone interested in marketing, I'm even a huge fan of the Clubcard - up to £4 return for every £100 spent and discount vouchers for stuff you buy? Who could resist that, even if it does mean that they know you better than your mum does and have a better record of your shopping habits than even you do?

I've even used Tesco although it's a mile further away than my nearest supermarket. I previously had an aversion to the nearest one (Sainsbury's) because their owner put so much money in Tory party coffers. Possibly I put too much thought into my choice of supermarket.

In truth it's now hard to avoid Tesco.

They have eight shops in an easily accessible range from my house and they sell everything. I'm still beholden to them for contact lenses and car insurance, for example. They're a British company doing very well in the world markets. They have a lot they can be proud of.

Unfortunately, their treatment of journalists is not one of those things.

In Thailand, Tesco has been criticised for aggressively pursuing their critics. A writer and former MP, Jit Siratranont, is facing up to two years in jail and a £16.4 million libel damages claim for saying that Tesco was expanding aggressively at the expense of small local retailers.

Tesco helpfully responded by serving him with writs for criminal defamation and civil libel.

I didn't stand up for local food producers when they complained of Tesco pressure, or even local retailers threatened by Tesco's relentless expansion policies. I didn't stand up for residents who didn't want another major supermarket in their backyard or green campaigners moaning about their transport hubs.

But there's always a point when it gets too close to home - and pursuing writers or journalists was the final straw for me.

Tesco are also pursuing a case against The Guardian, who had claimed they were involved in a complicated process to avoid tax - the newspaper's mistake was in suggesting it was the wrong kind of tax they were avoiding.

Let's face it, we'd all avoid punitive taxation if we could find a legal way of doing so. In Tesco's case the sums of money involved are probably astronomical - they make a big difference to the bottom line.

But that's not the issue.

The issue is the aggressive way they appear to be fighting to hide the facts, rather than facing them in the open. When you enter the legal arena, everyone's ability to discuss the issues gets wrapped up in legalese and red tape.

I'm sure it's valuable to them that people are now too scared to criticise. To me it represents the action of a bully and I can't really condone spending so much of my money with a bullying corporation.

The actions of one person are probably irrelevant to a company that makes £2 billion in profit each year.

But, as they continually say, every little helps.

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