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Top UK Retailers Targeted in Price Tag Switch for Living Wage

Amid holiday shopping rush, activists call on nation's wealthiest chains to 'stop scrooging' their employees

What a deal! The living wage in the United Kingdom is only £7.85.(Photo: Bex Hay/Twitter)

What a deal! The living wage in the United Kingdom is only £7.85.(Photo: Bex Hay/Twitter)

Amid the hubbub of the holiday shopping season, activists in the United Kingdom have been surreptitiously calling on the nation's largest retailers to raise their wages and "stop scrooging" their employees. 

Activists with the campaign, which launched in early December and will continue through the New Years shopping rush, are replacing the price tags at Britain's most profitable chains with fake labels demanding corporate store owners adopt a live wage, which they estimate is £7.85 in the UK or £9.15 in London (which roughly equals $12.21 and $14.23). The national minimum wage in the UK is £6.50, or about $10, an hour.

According to one of the campaign organizers, the UK-based group Share Action, retail is responsible for 28 percent of the more than 5 million workers in the UK who are paid less than a living wage.

"Many of these hard working people are managing two, even three jobs, as well as trying to raise a family," said St. John's Reverend Graham Hunter, a living wage campaigner with the civil society coalition Citizen UK. "The living wage rewards people with a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work, and is calculated using a social consensus on what people need to live, not simply exist hand to mouth." 

"We hope that this Christmas these companies will spread the cheer to all their workers, making it a happy Christmas for everyone in UK retail," said Share Action in a press statement.

Among the companies being targeted in British luxury purveyor Marks & Spencer, international clothes retailer Primark, and supermarket giant Morrisons.

"The companies being targeted in #StopScrooging are part of this global trend of stripping working rights and holding down pay at the lower end — whilst at the same time happily lavishing executive bonuses on people at the top," Luke Hildyard, the deputy director of the High Pay Commission, told VICE News.

Since the campaign began, two of the targeted retailers have agreed to discuss the possibility of joining the over 1,000 UK-based businesses that have pledged to pay the living wage. The wage is calculated annually by the Center for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University. The Center first determines a 'poverty threshold wage' and then adds a 15 percent margin to ensure that the recipients do not fall to the level of poverty wages.

Vice News reports: "While the UK's government has been furiously cutting the welfare bill in an attempt to tackle the budget deficit, which is at £14.1 billion ($22 billion), and talking up the amount of new jobs that have been created, the reality is that despite record employment levels, 14 million people now live in poverty, and rely on in-work benefits to survive, instead of just out of work benefits."

Images of the living wage labels are being shared online under the hashtag #stopscrooging.

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