Craftivists use sewing skills to demand M&S become a living wage employer

Craftivists are putting their needlework skills to the test by sending hand-sewn handkerchiefs to Marks & Spencer board members in a bid to make the company a living wage employer

ShareAction, a charity which promotes responsible investment, has joined forces with the Craftivist Collective to use ‘craftivism’ to encourage Marks & Spencer (M&S) to pay its staff the living wage of £9.15 per hour in London, and £7.85 in the rest of the UK.

An online survey by Opinium earlier this month suggested that 17% of British shoppers would shop more often at M&S if it paid staff a living wage.

The craftivist messages being directed at M&S form part of ShareAction’s wider campaign in partnership with Citizens UK to achieve the living wage across the FTSE 100 through shareholder activism. Nearly a quarter of FTSE 100 companies are now accredited with the Living Wage Foundation, but no high street retailer has yet signed up nationally.

In the run up to the M&S annual general meeting, the campaigners are coordinating a series of ‘stitch-ins’ at branches of M&S across the UK, where crafters can sew their handmade messages onto M&S handkerchiefs. The first stitch-in took place on 22 June outside the Islington branch of M&S in London and saw a positive atmosphere with balloons, cakes and many craftivists sewing their messages in the sunshine.

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A campaigner with her stitched banner outside M&S, Islington © Craftivist Collective

As part of ShareAction’s AGM Army project, the hand-made messages will be delivered to the board at the company’s AGM at Wembley Stadium on 7 July.

There have also been stitch-ins in Cardiff and Brighton, with one in Brentwood on 1 July and further events in Glasgow, Manchester, Lincoln, Edinburgh and Birmingham with dates to be confirmed.

“It’s a really important campaign to get behind as it affects everybody in society… It makes such a difference to people’s lives.”

The idea behind the hand-sewn messages is to show M&S that in addition to major shareholders with billions of pounds under management, its core customer base is also fully engaged and supportive on the issue of the living wage, and they want the company to show leadership on the issue of fair pay.

Craftivist Natasha Peter said: “It’s a really important campaign to get behind as it affects everybody in society… It makes such a difference to people’s lives.”

As well as all 14 board members of M&S, crafters will be giving their personalised stitched handkerchiefs to its largest shareholders, and to the celebrities who feature in the 2014 M&S ad campaign: Annie Lennox, Emma Thompson, Alex Wek, Rita Ora, Doreen Lawrence, Lulu Kennedy and Rachel Khoo.

They will also be handing out 250 special handkerchief craft kits with a living wage message printed on them to shareholders at the company’s AGM, so that shareholders can get involved with stitching too, to encourage them to support the living wage. These kits include an ethical handkerchief, needle and thread, instructions and a briefing note on investment risk.

ShareAction is also mobilising major investors who support the living wage, including asset managers, pension funds, charities and faith investors. These large shareholders have written to all of the FTSE 100, including M&S, in support of the living wage.

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Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective, said: “Marks & Spencer is supposed to be a company with solid values, which include paying your workers fairly. We’re sending the board and shareholders these carefully hand-stitched handkerchiefs to encourage the company not to ‘blow’ their chance to support life-changing decisions.”

Catherine Howarth, chief executive of ShareAction said: “People adore M&S but they want to see the company step up and become a living wage employer. The many big shareholders backing this call know it makes business sense as well as being the right thing to do.”


‘Stitch-in’ outside of M&S, Islington © Craftivist Collective