Bye-Bye, Mr. Wright: Spinneys Sacks its CEO

Workers insisted on exposing Wright’s widespread violations of their basic rights, as well as Spinneys practices that were illegal under Lebanese law. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Mohammad Zbeeb

Published Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Abraaj Capital, the principal investor in the supermarket retailer Spinneys, decided to let go of Michael Wright, who had served as the company’s CEO in Lebanon and the Middle East. Information indicates that the months-long discussions amongst the board of directors determined that keeping Wright as CEO was harming the company’s interests and reputation.

Sources informed Al-Akhbar that the decision was intended to appear as though it were Wright’s personal choice to retire early. Regardless of outside appearances, the decision to sack Wright is a victory for Spinneys workers who refused to submit to his “hot-tempered” style.

Workers insisted on exposing Wright’s widespread violations of their basic rights, as well as Spinneys practices that were illegal under Lebanese law. Wright casually used his relationships with some politicians to achieve his personal objectives, all at the expense of the 1,500 Spinneys workers in Lebanon.

Wright’s violations prompted a remarkable and unprecedented reaction from international and local organizations, spurring a criminal lawsuit against Wright from the company’s fledgling labor union.

Wright is currently facing a criminal case on charges of committing crimes under Article 329 of the Lebanese Penal Code. This article stipulates punishment for “anyone who keeps a Lebanese citizen from exercising his civil rights or obligations when coupled with a threat, force or any other means of physical and moral coercion by imprisonment from one month to a year.”

These means of coercion were common tools of Wright’s. He sought help from William Taouk’s (son of former Lebanese MP Gibran Taouk) bodyguards to engage in physical violence against the secretary of Spinneys’ workers union, Moukheiber Habshi. In addition, a number of organizers were forced to resign from the union and drop their lawsuits.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) issued a statement on 31 August 2012 accusing Spinneys management of violating rights and union freedoms. Furthermore, 11 labor unions in Arab countries took a unified position against Spinneys management. The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) based in Switzerland sent a letter to Wright’s office in Dubai demanding that he respect the law and workers’ rights. The civic organization Avaaz, which includes more than 17 million members in 194 countries, launched a campaign against Wright demanding he put an end to his illegal methods.

Regardless of the motives behind firing Wright, this step will be inadequate if the new management does not rehire those fired and recognize the Spinneys union. Spinneys must respect their workers’ rights, acknowledge their right to bargain, and eliminate the system of unpaid labor inflicted upon porters.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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