Waitrose has been accused of Big Brother tactics after it sent a letter to its farmer suppliers asking them not to speak to the media or post on social media without consulting the retailer first.
In a letter seen by Farmers Guardian, Waitrose said there had been a ‘considerable level’ of media challenge to the Waitrose livestock schemes which had ‘the potential to seriously undermine the Waitrose brand’.
The chain came under fire earlier this year when it emerged it was selling New Zealand lamb under the Prince Charles-backed Duchy Organic label – a brand which claims to support the heritage of British farms.
More recently, Waitrose was forced to change the ‘misleading’ labelling of its range of ‘British’ branded ready meals which contained New Zealand lamb.
One farmer, who asked not to be named, said he was shocked to see the letter at a time when farmers were being encouraged to connect with consumers and the wider public.
He said: “It’s a bit like Big Brother is watching you.”
The letter said: “There have been a number of recent occasions where farmers from across a range of Waitrose supply chains have spoken to the press or commented on social media without informing their respective team managers or Waitrose.
“In a couple of cases this has been particularly embarrassing or has resulted in disjointed messaging which has done little for the reputation of the Waitrose supply chains.”
Warning farmers any breach of protocol would be ‘taken seriously’, it said any approaches from the media, including on social media, must be reported before any comment is made, ‘even in passing’, adding farmers were not allowed to state their affiliation as a Waitrose supplier without prior permission.
A spokesman for Waitrose said the letter, sent out in September, was an update of media protocol which was originally issued in 2012.
“We have had several requests for support since the media guidelines were put in place - and all the feedback we’ve received to date has been positive,” said the spokesman.
“Those farmers who have contacted us have understood the document is intended to offer a clearly understandable guide when dealing with the media.
“Because we have dedicated and close knit supply chains for beef, liquid milk, eggs, pork and chicken and lamb, we believe our farmers represent our business when speaking publicly.”
Waitrose said it encouraged farmers to ’tell their stories’ and featured them widely in promotions and publications.
Responding to the misleading labelling claims, it said the names of the dishes referred to the heritage of the recipe and not the origin of the meat.
However, the retailer said clearer labels would be added to packaging ‘urgently’.