Saturday, August 11, 2007

Whole Foods UK Whistleblower, redux

The Vegan Vigilante* who's been dishing here on embarrassing details of an alleged labor foofrah in Whole Foods' UK operation left another note in the comments section last night.

Whole Foods UK whisleblower STRIKES AGAIN!
The transition from the US market to the UK market has not been the seamless operation one would expect from the darling of the natural food industry in the United States. First Tesco accomplished a minor coup by trade marking the Whole Foods label, even though Whole Foods Market had had a presence in the UK for 3 years with the Fresh and Wild stores. Then the new 80,000 square foot Kensington was months late opening and is bleeding red ink. Although the nearly 200 store chain purports to be the organic alternative, only 10 percent of its product mix in the UK is certified as such. Recently it was reported that local sourcing regulations were ignored by Whole Foods when calling certain produce local. Now Whole Foods is in an immigration row. It seems that a scheme was cooked up in the North Atlantic Regional Office of Whole Foods Market Boston office to make the Kensington store look more profitable than it really was. The plan started by having company Team Members from the States come to the UK to prepare for the opening of the huge Kensington store. The Team Member's home store in the States would pay the salary and expenses of the visiting employee while they were in the UK. Visiting workers in the UK are also required to get a work permit through immigration before entering the country. Whole Foods at first complied with the work permit law but then decided the 1400 pound per employee fee was too steep for the chain that has been dubbed "Whole Paycheck" by value shoppers in the U.S.. North Atlantic region president David Lannon cooked up the scheme whereby Whole Foods employees from the states entered the UK on tourist visas to avoid the work permit fees. Although the employees salary, transportation, lodging and food costs were paid while they were in the UK and employees were required to put in a regular 8 hour day while at the Kensington store they skirted the fee by claiming they were not doing any productive work. The problem is that the properly permitted predecessors from the States and the un-permitted reinforcements did the same kind of work in the UK. When word of this scheme was revealed to the press the usually sanguine Whole Foods staff became tight lipped in a hurry. Kensington Store Team Leader Rick Bonin refused to comment on the scheme. Laura Derba, the North Atlantic region vice president instructed all Whole Foods staff to not speak about the issue to the press. The public relations office of Whole Foods is claiming that the scheme is valid because Whole Foods employees in the states were engaged only in training programs while in the UK and did no productive work in the Kensington store. Visiting employees from the States offered no training seminars or workshops to the UK Whole Foods workers at the Kensington store however. There are currently workers from the States at the Kensington store who have reportedly been engaged in productive work during their stay in the UK. This type of story can not bode well for the company. Saving a few quid at immigration in a country where there is a strong trade union presence who will turn this into a political football is truly being penny wise and pound foolish. It does not help that Whole Foods has imposed a news blackout on employees who had been in the UK as it begs the question "What do they have to hide?" woodwork

This account is long on detail, including naming names, and still short on corroboration (not to mention line breaks). I still haven't seen this story break in the Old Media, as VV promised.

My grandpa used to say "Never let the truth spoil a good story." Unfortunately that doesn't hold true for corporate scandal. If this story is on the level, someone here needs to throw us a bone here at Lee Distad's Professional Opinion: a bone with some corroborative meat on it.

Vegan Vigilante needs to drop me a line at leeUNDERSCOREdistadATyahooDOTcom and let me know, confidentially, obviously, how they know what they know. You know, like journalists do. I may be New Media (Meta New Media, technically, but now is not the time to get into that), but we at Lee Distad's Professional Opinion have standards.

*I'm not 100% crazy about the name Vegan Vigilante either, but vis a vis the Name That Whistleblower Contest, none of you are exactly setting the world on fire, either.

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