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News :: Labor
Whole Foods Market Caught Violating UK Visiting Worker Laws
11 Aug 2007
The vehemently anti-union Whole Foods Market is innvolved in a huge immigration row in the UK. Apparently workers from the Boston area were instructed to lie to immigration officials to avoid the $2000 visiting worker permit fee.
The transition from the US market to the UK market has not been the seamless operation one would expect from the darling of the natural food industry in the United States. First Tesco accomplished a minor coup by trade marking the Whole Foods label, even though Whole Foods Market had had a presence in the UK for 3 years with the Fresh and Wild stores. Then the new 80,000 square foot Kensington store was months late opening and is bleeding buckets of red ink. Although the nearly 200 store chain purports to be the organic alternative, only 10 percent of its product mix in the UK is certified as such. Recently it was reported that local sourcing regulations were ignored when calling certain produce local at the new Kensington store. Now Whole Foods is in an immigration row.

It seems that a scheme was cooked up in the North Atlantic Regional Office of Whole Foods Market Boston office to make the Kensington store look more profitable than it really was. The plan started by having company Team Members from the States come to the UK to prepare for the opening of the huge Kensington store. The Team Member's home store in the States would pay the salary and expenses of the visiting employee while they were in the UK.
Visiting workers in the UK are also required to get a work permit through immigration before entering the country. Whole Foods at first complied with this law but then decided the 1400 pound per employee fee was too steep for the chain that has been dubbed "Whole Paycheck" by value shoppers in the U.S.. North Atlantic region president David Lannon developed a plan whereby Whole Foods employees from the states entered the UK on tourist visas to avoid the work permit fees. Although the employees salary, transportation, lodging and food costs were paid by Whole Foods while they were in the UK and employees were required to put in a regular 8 hour day while at the Kensington store they skirted the fee by claiming they were not doing any productive work while in the UK. The problem is that the properly permitted predecessors from the States and the un-permitted reinforcements did the same kind of work while in the UK. When word of this scheme was revealed to the press the usually sanguine Whole Foods staff became tight lipped in a hurry. Kensington Store Team Leader Rick Bonin refused to comment on the scheme. Laura Derba, the North Atlantic region vice president instructed all Whole Foods staff to not speak about the issue to the press. The public relations office of Whole Foods is claiming that the scheme is valid because Whole Foods employees in the states were engaged only in training programs while in the UK and did no productive work in the Kensington store. Visiting employees from the States offered no training seminars or workshops to the UK Whole Foods workers at the Kensington store however. There are currently workers from the States at the Kensington store who have reportedly been engaged in productive work during their stay in the UK. This type of story can not bode well for the company. Saving a few quid at immigration in a country where there is a strong trade union presence who will turn this into a political football is truly being penny wise and pound foolish. It does not help that Whole Foods has imposed a gag order on employees who had been in the UK as it begs the question "What do the have to hide?"

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