The legal wrangle will benefit three groups: lawyers, who will rake in fat fees; newspapers, as TheGuardian’s rivals both enjoy its discomfort and relish reporting the twists and turns of a showdown between two British institutions; and, most of all, Tesco’s critics, who will make the most of another opportunity to paint the retailer in the blackest of hues.
Tesco is at risk of coming across as a bully. The frustration of directors at the ground made by its enemies is understandable, but if they think the carping can be silenced in a high-profile hearing, they’re mistaken.
Only a month ago, Tesco was named the Consumers’ Favourite Retailer at the Retail Week Awards. That was the result of a TNS poll of 15,000 shoppers (page 28) and shows what people really think. As long as it is the shoppers’ choice, Tesco’s foes are just fleas on an elephant’s hide.
Tesco has powerful arguments in its defence, which are heard too rarely. It has helped transform quality of life by making a vast range of products and services that were once the preserve of the privileged available to ordinary people.
In the UK alone, it provides employment for 250,000 people. And it shares its financial success with them – in January, more than 51,000 divvied up£175 million.
It is presented as a bully, yet it pioneered a groundbreaking partnership with Usdaw, regarded by the shopworkers’ union as a blueprint for staff-employer relationships.
Tesco is a good corporate citizen abroad, as a result of its commitment to Fairtrade, and at home, where regeneration partnerships have created 4,000 jobs in deprived areas.
The grocer has a convincing story to tell. Often, it’s not heard because it doesn’t suit the version peddled by influential critics – whether pressure groups or papers. It won’t be heard any louder as a result of a legal clash.
Tesco must court opinion. That can be done successfully, although it takes time, as Wal-Mart’s US experience shows.
But the retailer can’t afford to take its mind off the day job – the ultimate guarantor of continued success. The scribblers that Tesco should worry about are in the City, feeling increasingly uneasy about performance and prospects.
It should be noted that The Guardian’s parent, along with private equity firm Apax, now owns Retail Week’s publisher Emap. That has nothing to do with the argument made.
The point is that court action, even as plaintiff and even if victorious, is unlikely to help Tesco. Just ask Heather Mills.
George MacDonald is deputy editor of Retail Week
No comments yet