On April 3rd 2004, Viva! supporters from all over the UK protested outside Marks & Spencer stores, to highlight the plight of the factory-farmed ducks our undercover filming had exposed at one of the store’s main suppliers. Replicating the scale of our recent Day of Action against Tesco, this day was an overwhelming success. M&S could not fail to hear the message that the ongoing abuse of Britain’s favourite bird had to stop.
Through a covert investigation over a six month period, Viva! exposed the dreadful conditions on two intensive duck farms farms belonging to Manor Farm Ducklings, one of M&S’ major suppliers. M&S’ response to our investigation was to defend their supplier. They seemed more concerned about their reputation than the welfare of their animals. We wanted to publicise both the shocking findings of our investigation and break through M&S’ wall of spin. Viva! mobilised our supporters for a Day of the Ducks! against them this April. We printed over a hundred thousand leaflets plus post cards, comment cards and posters and Viva! supporters responded with a flood of correspondence to M&S’ head office and a barrage of phone calls to their customer services. Hundreds of people contacted us, eager to take part in the Day of Action.
Spreading the Word
Viva! supporters out in force in Sheffield
On April 3rd Viva! activists distributed almost 130,000 leaflets about our investigation to the customers of nearly 200 M&S stores. There were protests from Guernsey to Inverness – thousands of people discovered the truth about factory farming and were able to talk about and find out how to act positively about their concerns. Many were totally outraged that M&S – a store that promotes itself as being “compassionate” – would be so thoroughly involved in factory farming. Concerned shoppers flocked to sign petitions urging the store to stop selling duck meat from intensive units, and many people felt strongly enough to hand in specially made customer cards inside the stores to register their disgust. Through excellent media coverage – including a full-page exposé in the Daily Mail and local press and radio – the message got out to millions more. M&S couldn’t fail to be embarrassed, and their weak rebuffs on the day were evidence enough that they knew we had the upper hand.
The day couldn’t have been the success it was without the dedication and resolve of the people all round the country that took part. Stars on the day included Dianne and her group who traveled to M&S stores in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Durham, South Shields and Sunderland, where they met with other Viva! supporters. There were fifteen protestors at Oxford Circus, in London, handing out leaflets and chatting to hundreds of shoppers. The enthusiastic response of Wendy who demonstrated in Shrewsbury was typical: “We were a small but determined group and gave out all leaflets (1000) in just over a couple of hours! We had an excellent response and many people were truly shocked to discover the truth about M&S’ duck meat, and in fact the cruelty involved in all factory farmed duck meat.”
Cornwall does it for ducks!
Some supporters had been so touched by the plight of the Manor Farm ducks that they pledged to demonstrate in public for the first time, and some were so admirably determined that the message needed to be heard that they staged lone protests, when no one else in their area was able to help out. Meher, who staged a demo outside the Swiss Cottage branch, said of the day: “We got a page of signatures for the petition from people who were really shocked, who shop regularly at Marks, and who have promised to write to the head office.” Responses from each store were mixed – from benign indifference or even interest from some, to downright rudeness. Meher says, “The store manager was extremely rude, came out to us to check that we were well away from her store property, denied all accusations of what was happening on the farm, said she would not take any post cards, and we know she was intimidating her staff from taking any either. A young man went in with the card and told us that they had thrown it into the bin.” Is this any way for a store to treat its customers? Meher said she would write to M&S head office to complain, and we suggest anyone else who had this kind of treatment do the same.
Overall, we couldn’t have wished for a better reaction from the public: especially from one gentleman who told supporters that finding out what happened to ducks was the last straw, and he was turning vegetarian on the spot!
There can be no high standards on a factory farm. No amount of M&S’ creative PR could hide the stark truth: in their miserable seven week existence these dirty, dejected birds never feel the freedom of an open river, they never feel the sun on their backs – and they never even spend one moment with their mothers. Their biological needs are routinely and cruelly ignored. Why, it has to be asked, are M&S “happy” with that?
Viva!’s supporters shamed the M&S by exposing the truth that their claims of ‘high animal welfare standards’ are meaningless when they profit from the kind of animal suffering we exposed. The general public were justifiably shocked and angry by this level of animal suffering, especially by this “compassionate” store. Denying ducks access to water is just legalised animal abuse. The producers know it. M&S know it. They just didn’t want their customers to know it – but now they do, thanks to you.
We must never lose sight of the fact that all supermarkets sell factory farmed ducks, not just M&S. That’s why our campaign has only just begun – but it has begun with an outstanding success, and we are already planning for the future.
So many people took part in the Day of the Ducks! that we simply haven’t the space to name them all. If you organised a demo; took part in one; distributed leaflets in your workplace, school or neighbourhood or supported the day in any other way, we thank you, again, from the bottom of our hearts. Your support is vital to the work we do.