Ocado chairman and former M&S boss Lord Stuart Rose has insisted that all companies want to “do the right thing” on employee pay.

  • Lord Rose hits back at “image problem” claims against retailers
  • Ex-M&S boss says companies want to “do the right thing” on pay
  • Comes after calls for retailers to address contentious employment practices

Lord Rose claimed it was “unfair” to say that company bosses were not aware of the issues facing employees on lower wages. His comments came as retailers face growing scrutiny over the treatment of workers.

Lord Rose spoke out after facing questions from living wage campaigners at Ocado’s annual shareholder meeting in London, which took place as retailers were urged to tackle a growing “image problem” facing the industry.

Despite the election of a Conservative government with a pro-business agenda, experts including branding and legal professionals called on retail chiefs to address perceptions that contentious employment practices, including zero-hour contracts, are ingrained in the sector.

Sports Direct’s use of the controversial contracts remains a source of debate, while Next was the latest retail giant to become embroiled in scandal when it was accused of unfair treatment of staff for no longer paying overtime on Sundays.

But Lord Rose said: “It’s unfair to say that anybody responsible for any company is not aware of these issues. Whether you’re Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem, I believe everybody wants to do better for employees.

“I believe in the creation of wealth. If you don’t create wealth then you can’t distribute it fairly. That’s the reason why people voted the way they did last time.

“Five years ago people couldn’t get jobs. That was the real poverty issue.”

Living wage

According to The Guardian, Lord Rose, who earns £200,000 a year as Ocado chairman, added that “most boards understand the pressures of living at the bottom end of society” and said the online grocer had the “aspiration” to move towards paying the living wage for all of its employees.

He said that fair wages were “something that all in society in the UK today need to be talking and thinking about”. But he refused to commit to paying the living wage, which stands at £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 in the rest of the UK.

“We have to balance off what we can afford to do and what is right to do,” Lord Rose said.

An Ocado spokeswoman told Retail Week that around 90% of its staff were already earning above the living wage, after benefits like bonuses, a 15% staff discount, a pension scheme and free shares had been taken into account.

“Taken together that’s a fair package, that doesn’t mean we’re complacent and take it for granted and that we don’t think that we can improve things, but on balance I think we are doing the right thing,” Lord Rose added.