The New Slavery: Unemployed people ‘bullied’ into unpaid work at Tesco, Primark and other multinationals – Corporate Watch – August 12, 2011

ids macht frei

Work for your subsistence - or starve on the streets! The latest from the "Work Programme"


Unemployed people are being sent to work without pay in multinational corporations, including Tesco, Asda, Primark and Hilton Hotels, by Jobcentres and companies administering the government’s welfare reforms. Some are working for up to six months while receiving unemployment benefit of £67.50 a week or less.

The government says that unpaid work placements, which are also given in small businesses, voluntary organisations and public sector bodies, help people gain vital experience and prepare them for the workplace, but campaigners argue they provide companies with free labour, undercut existing jobs and that people are “bullied” into them.

 In an interview published by Corporate Watch today, a woman who was given a placement in Primark for six months, under the previous government’s welfare programme, says her work was the same as that of other paid staff and that she was not given a job at the end of it. She also says she was told her benefits would be stopped if she did not attend.

A variety of multinational companies in the retail and service sectors appear to be taking people on unpaid placements. Employment services company Working Links, which has been awarded contracts to administer the coalition’s flagship Work Programme in Wales, Scotland and the South West of England, told Corporate Watch it worked with all the major retailers across Britain and “actively promoted volunteering as a tool to help our customers in their journey to find sustainable employment.”

A Tesco spokesperson said the company has 3,000 work experience placements for “the young unemployed,” while Asda and Sainsbury’s areboth named in a list, obtained last month under the Freedom of Information Act, of companies, voluntary and public sector bodies taking unpaid work placements organised by A4e, another employment company contracted by the government, although Sainsbury’s denied working with A4e.

This comes after the discounter Poundland had been revealed to be taking people on unpaid placements earlier this year (see here).

The corporate placements are not limited to retail: Hilton Hotels told Corporate Watch they have “committed to 100 placements at hotels around the country – that’s more than one for every hotel we operate.”

Explaining the reasons behind its involvement, Hilton said: “the work experience initiative will help unemployed young people to develop the skills needed to secure a sustainable job,” but campaigners critical of these “workfare” programmes question why the companies are not paying a proper wage.

 A spokesperson for the Boycott Workfare campaign said: “These placements are not designed to help people into full-time paid work but they serve to increase organisations’ profits. They provide a constant stream of free labour and suppress wages by replacing paid workers with unpaid workers. People are coerced, bullied and sanctioned into taking the placements. Placements in the public sector and charities are no better and are making volunteering compulsory. This is taking away the right of a person to sell their own labour and their free will to choose who they volunteer their time for.”

 When asked by Corporate Watch, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) did not say how many placements led to paid jobs. Tesco said “many work placement staff starting on work placements will become Tesco employees,” while Hilton said “a number” of young people are offered full-time positions at the end of their placement. Asda and Primark did not comment. Sainsbury’s said they organise their own ‘You Can’ programme, outside the government schemes, which they said always leads to paid work.

People are sent to work unpaid through different government schemes, all under the Get Britain Working banner. Tesco and Hilton are taking 18-24 year olds for between two to eight weeks on Work Experience Placements direct from Jobcentres. People were sent to Primark and Asda by contracted employment companies through the previous government’s Flexible New Deal for up to six months and this will be continued in the recently started Work Programme. The DWP said the decision to send people to corporations under the Work Programme will be made by the employment provider companies as they see fit.

 This is in addition to the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, through which 20,000 people will be sent to work (unpaid) for up to 30 hours a week for 4 weeks. The DWP said these jobs will “deliver a contribution to the local community” and will not involve major corporations.

Do you know any other companies taking unpaid work placements? Contact Corporate Watch on 02074260005 or contact[at]

Read more at Corporate Watch HERE:

4 thoughts on “The New Slavery: Unemployed people ‘bullied’ into unpaid work at Tesco, Primark and other multinationals – Corporate Watch – August 12, 2011

  1. Joe Kane on Facebook says:

    These are nothing better than Stalinist Forced Labour Camps with private profiteers acting as overseers and camp kapos.

    If big buisness needs employees with specialist, knowledge skills and experience then it should pay for them itself out of its own pocket. That’s the free-market. That’s how it works. Yet big buisness which claims to be supporters of the concept of a free-market don’t seem to actually want to support in practice.

    It’s the same when it comes to straightforward professional education and experience too.

    Students are forced to pay for their own higher education – but no such financial demands by the government are made on individual corporate buisnesses which need the skills and knowledge of graduates if they want to stay in buisness. For instance, when have private accountancy and law firms ever re- paid back the costs of educating graduate accountants and lawyers?

    Private medical companies, such as BUPA, have yet to pay for a single medical graduate making their way through university, never mind paying the vast costs involved in producing a qualified NHS consultant. The whole tab is picked up by the student and then the NHS taxpayer – whilst BUPA reaps all the private profits from these personal and public investments.

  2. TiddK says:

    Hang on – coerced into working for nothing? Isn’t that slavery and therefore illegal? Someone should challenge this under European and / or international law.

  3. Eclectic Badger says:

    But they are not working for free are they(?) As they are still in receipt of Benefits. The benefit system was never were meant to be money for nothing – so sorry don’t agree. The only possible reason for objection would be if the benefit/pay for number of hours worked on placement is less than equivalent to take home minimum wage after tax.

  4. Dreadzo says:

    I think this is discusting! I can understand the government wanting people to work but for people to be working 30 hours a week for £67.50 is definatly under minimum wage therefore they are not obiding by a law they have set.. Surely what they are doing is illegal and can be challenged somehow?

    I also think that it is wrong to force someone to do something by taking away their free will and bullying them into this work by threatning to make them penniless and homeless.. I can understand that it must be tough for the government having to pay for so many people to recieve welfare but i’m sure if they allocated more money from OUR taxes to the welfare of this country instead of dwindling away our money overseas it wouldnt be so much of a problem..

    Not to mention the fact that it cost MILLIONS to imprison many of the criminals that were involved in the london riots.. surely they should be sending them away to participate it jobs like this as a form of community service instead of locking them away (£140,000 a year per minor/youth) when they could be punished by alternate forms i.e. actualy teaching them what they have done wrong and making them work in the companies that they have stolen from.

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