Debating Access to Soft Porn With Sainsbury’s CEO

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I was one of the first two names called up by Chairman David Tyler at the Sainsbury’s AGM on July 9th, and was second to speak. This was my question to the board:

“I have always had great regard for Sainsbury’s. My nearest store is in Brighton and I shop there whenever I can. I think the food quality is excellent and I love how I can get nectar points and deals on petrol.

“There’s one thing that bothers me though when I shop in your store. I’m a mother, and I am concerned by the fact that you openly display tabloid newspapers with sensationalist sex headlines and sexualised images on the cover, and soft porn content, in places easily accessible to children and young people.

“My 84-year-old mother is a loyal customer of Sainsbury’s in Rhyl. During a family visit to her last year, we were sitting having coffee and cake in the new cafe, when the man at the next table opened the Sun at Page 3 and studied it for what seemed like ages, in front of us all. I felt embarrassed for myself, my sons, my daughter and my Mum. I then noticed that the Sun is offered free at every table, and I felt angry that you are supplying soft porn to customers in your family cafe.

“I wrote to Sainsbury’s twice about this issue but received a dismissive response. My second letter was ignored.

“I mentioned it to my mother, who told me that when she picks up her newspaper in Sainsbury’s, she also sees images of women in the tabloids which she thinks are disgusting – but she feels she can’t complain.

“So I would like to complain now, on her behalf. And on behalf of all the other women who feel they can’t complain, and all the parents who are too busy to write to Sainsbury’s. I work with parents so I know there is growing concern about this issue.

“My question to you is twofold. Firstly, will Sainsbury’s commit to implementing a company-wide policy, over the next year, that requires tabloids that contain soft porn to be placed up on the top shelf, so that adult material is not in the face of people, old and young, who don’t want to see it? And secondly, will you stop offering the Sun newspaper free in your family cafes?”

My question was passed to outgoing CEO Justin King who said that he remembered my letter and had replied to it. When I refuted that, he had to admit that it must have been to someone else complaining about the same thing.

He suggested that I take up my complaint with the Sun newspaper, to which I responded that I was putting my question as a Sainsbury’s customer, not the Sun’s. He also justified Sainsbury’s right to stock the Sun and offer customer choice to which I replied that I wasn’t asking him to stop selling it, just to display it responsibly.

He stated that Sainsbury’s policy was in line with the industry convention resulting from the Bailey report, which does not apply to newspapers, and that individual stores make their own decisions about supplying the Sun in their cafes.

I asked: “Do you think it fits with Sainsbury’s values, to actually make the decision to supply soft porn in your cafes and display easily-accessible soft porn – do your display policies fit with your values?”

His reply was: “I think they do” and our exchange continued like this: “You are choosing to use the language of ‘soft porn’ and that’s fundamentally a responsibility of government to define where that line is drawn, they don’t currently draw that line on the newspapers and magazines we sell in our stores, what we sell would not be any definition of the word soft porn, we do believe we retail responsibly in accordance with other supermarkets.”

“And that they are suitable for children’s viewing?”

“Well of course you’re talking about the internal content of a newspaper which is..”

“Which is easily accessible and displayed at children’s eye-level..”

“And in the end all of us as parents, and I’m a parent, have a responsibility to take our own decisions..”

“So we need to police our own children when we’re in family supermarkets?”

At this point somebody said ‘I think you’ve made your point’ and I thanked the board and stepped down.

I was delighted to get spontaneous applause and a few ‘hear hears’ as I was speaking so that the Sainsbury’s board could clearly see the evidence that this is an issue of concern for their customers and shareholders. Many thanks to Share Action and as a follow-up I will be sending some dictionary definitions of ‘soft porn’ to incoming CEO Mike Coupe.

 

Originally published on Share Action

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