Back in 2012 I first discovered the Craftivism movement.
Rather than taking to the streets with placards and shouting, or chaining yourself to railings there is another way. Craftivism uses craft to protest – proving that it’s not all about who shouts loudest. Sometimes the quietest, most thoughtful act can have a bigger impact.
This year, they’re involved in another national campaign, specifically targeting that shopping giant Marks and Spencer, by joining with ShareAction’s AGM Army, working together to press UK retailers to pay a Living Wage.
And I’ve joined in.
There’ve been a number of stitch-ins at M&S branches across the country, where volunteers armed only with a hanky, needle and thread, have hand-sewn messages to be delivered to 14 board members, celebrity endorsers such as Annie Lennox, Emma Thompson, Alex Wek, Rita Ora, Dowreen Lawrence, Lulu Kennedy, and Rachel Khoo all of whom have recently been involved in advertising, and major shareholders at their AGM at Wembley Stadium on July 7th.
Craftivists taking part have both quietly demonstrated, chatted to customers and staff, after an online poll showed 17% of British shoppers would shop more often at Marks & Spencers if it paid staff a Living Wage. (Source: Opinium survey June 2015, based on 2002 online interviews across the UK). By protesting in a gentle and non-aggressive way, the craftivists have engaged with customers in way that other protests can’t.
To do my part, I’ve hand stitched my own M&S hanky, with it’s own message to board member Richard Solomons. As well as asking him not to blow his chance to make a life changing decision, and including an apt quote from Ernest Hemingway, I’ve also written a letter to him, asking him to consider what that change in wage would mean to each member of staff, and how it could help alleviate poverty and suffering for those struggling to make ends meet.
I stitched on my commute, in quiet moments at home, on my lunch hour. Giving time to think about what I was saying, how it made me feel. Reflecting on what I was asking someone to do.
Each hand embroidered hanky is encouraging board members to commit to paying the Living Wage (£9.15 in London and £7.85 across the UK) to all staff, and forms part of ShareAction’s campaign, in partnership with Citizens UK, to achieve the Living Wage across the FTSE 100. Nearly a quarter of FTSE 100 companies have now accredited with the Living Wage Foundation, but no high street retailer has yet signed up.
ShareAction has organised AGM questions on the Living Wage at more than 20 company AGMs so far this year. ShareAction is simultaneously mobilising an Investor Collaborative for the Living Wage made up of institutional shareholders with billions of pounds in British companies, including asset managers, pension funds, charity and faith investors. These large shareholders have written in 2015 to all of the FTSE 100, including M&S, in support of the Living Wage.
As well as handing over our hand-stitched work, they will also be handing out 250 craftivism kits to shareholders, to encourage them to take part too. Each kit includes an ethical hanky, needle and thread, instructions, and a briefing note on investment risk.
Good luck to all involved tomorrow at the AGM, I hope that the board make the right decision.
After all, this is not just a job. This is an M&S job.