Unite, which represents the rights of UK workers like meat processors, alleged last week that the store was not only misleading consumers through its labelling, but also crucifying local meat processors by relying on imported meats from South America. The criticisms highlight growing pressure on manufacturers and retailers over ensuring that welfare standards throughout the food supply chain allow for sustainable production. M&S, a leading supplier of own-brand products in the UK food market, says that the union's calls for it to adopt more open labelling on meat origin, and to ensure greater support for local processors, were already being met. "They are calling on us to clearly label all meat products - we already do and on fresh meat and poultry we go further, giving the name of the farmer on pack," the retailer stated. M&S claims that it is company policy, therefore, that all fresh meat carries the country of origin on the front of a pack, while prepared foods like a chicken ready meal would display a country of origin on the back of its packaging. While the retailer did accept that non-British meat is used in some processed goods, it added that the amount was minimal. "The majority of our fresh meat and poultry is British or Irish," the company stated. "We use meat from Brazil and Thailand (again to our approved standards), in a tiny (less than 1 per cent) proportion of our foods, usually to ensure authenticity e.g Thai party food, or because of unique processes, e.g Corned Beef." In a statement, M&S claims it had already held a meeting with Unite in the previous month as part of what it said was regular dialogue between itself, the union and suppliers, over ensuring "best practice" in labour standards. "We are at a loss to understand why Unite continues to single us out when they know this and are extremely disappointed and surprised at the action [they are] taking," Demonstrations Nonetheless, the union last week began staging demonstrations outside a number of the company's UK stores to call for the retailer to lead the industry in setting out minimum standards on ensuring that workers in UK processors are supported. Similar action is also expected to take place in Korea, Romania, Poland and Bermuda, Unite said. Union concerns Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley said the labelling concerns reflected wider consumer dissatisfaction over meat processing. "The increase of meat imports is putting pressure on already vulnerable low paid workers in the UK who are employed in the meat supply chain," he stated. "If however, M&S clearly labelled their products in the interests of consumers, low paid UK workers would benefit too." Consumer views Unite said that it had also conducted a 1,100-strong survey group of consumers, which gave a "damning verdict" on the company's labelling policies "Often the M&S label does not tell consumers when the animal was slaughtered, or what processes it has been through before arriving at the store, for example freezing," the union stated. "This is despite the fact that 75 per cent of respondents who buy meat or meat products that are not frozen, generally assume that they have never been frozen." In addition, Unite said that 90 per cent of respondents said they would be disappointed if meat products appearing to be fresh had undergone some from freezing or cooking. The union also claims to have evidence of widespread discrimination in how workers in the UK meat supply chain were being treated, which had led to a two-tier workforce among meat suppliers. This climate has served only to create conflict and disharmony between migrant and indigenous workers operating in the segment, according to Unite. Referring to its survey, the union said that 92 per cent of people questioned backed the statement that: "it is the responsibility of supermarkets to ensure that workers in their supply chain are treated ethically."