Sainsbury’s is under fire over its latest campaign

A Sainsbury's sign
Steve Topple

People aren’t happy with Sainsbury’s. The supermarket giant is under fire for its latest initiative. But it has been here before.

Sainsbury’s and food banks

As the Guardian reported, Sainsbury’s has launched a “scheme labelling items useful to food banks”:

From Friday, customers visiting more than 1,400 branches of Sainsbury’s will be urged to include priority items such as tinned fish, meat and vegetables, longlife fruit juice and dried or UHT milk in their shop, for donation after checkout.

The supermarket is expanding its year-round food collection scheme to encourage more suitable – and long-lasting – donations to help feed those dealing with hunger or in need. It has teamed up with hundreds of charity partners across the UK which will distribute the essential foodstuffs to local communities in time for Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course it’s good that Sainsbury’s is helping food banks. It’s also good that people donate to them. But social media users have a problem with the wider issues surrounding Sainsbury’s campaign; namely the “normalisation” of food banks:

Chris Giles also made a good point:

While this person had another idea:

Mark Adkins thinks Sainsbury’s should get political:

It’s Adkin’s tweet that seems to sum up the situation best. How is it that one supermarket giant (Iceland) can make an advert so political that the regulator bans it – yet Sainsbury’s can’t stick its head above the political parapet about poverty? But then, Sainsbury’s has already come under fire in the past. Because it was caught colluding with the government, namely the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), after agreeing to hand over CCTV to it as part of benefit fraud investigations.

Normalising abuse

The normalisation of food banks is of concern. Because we’ve seen it before with the welfare state. As BBC Future noted:

One well-known political theory… is the Overton Window, which supports the wider idea of normalisation within politics. The Window applies to the policies that sum up the political climate at the time, and which voters deem acceptable… For example, in 1987, 22% disagreed that the government should spend [any more] money on welfare benefits, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey. In 2009, one year after the financial crash, that figure was 43%.

Shows like Benefits Street ‘normalise’ the idea that welfare claimants are scroungers. And Sainsbury’s promoting food-bank donations normalises poverty as part of our weekly shop.

Playing into agendas

As UN special rapporteur Philip Alston noted during his recent visit to the UK, food banks play:

a really crucial role… that real safety net so that [people] don’t quite starve. [But] you risk sending the message that government doesn’t need to play the central role and government can just outsource these things… [it can’t] just hope that a private community is going to take it up and keep people alive…

But of course, this is how the government would like it. And sadly, knowingly or not, Sainsbury’s is just playing into this agenda.

Featured image via Elliott Brown – Flickr

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