November 10, 2000
When Morrisons Executives logged on to www.morrisonsplc.com last month they were shocked by what they saw.
Beneath the heading "Please read this" they found critical views of pay and conditions at their prestige food factory, Farmers Boy, clearly put up by one of their own employees:
"Mr Morrison made his money by paying low wages. I'm a Morrisons worker myself - not by choice."
He went on:
"Mr Morrison pays crap wages. His rates are £4.54 an hour. That's about £8000 a year."
The mystery author identified Farmers Boy as a wholly owned subsiduary of Morrisons and said:
"This place is the worst place in Bradford to work because they treat you like sh-t. I know people who worked here before and they're glad they left when they did."
He added a few innocuous pictures lifted from Morrisons own publicity leaflets, and the supermarket's logo. But to avoid any confusion, if that were possible, he noted at the bottom:
"This website is not sponsored or endorsed by Morrisons Supermarket".
Morrisons lawyers moved swiftly to have the critical site removed altogether. They complained to the site hosts ZY.com who agreed immediately to cut thier client's site. Heather Ross for ZY.com told KDIS:
"Our dedicated customer service department at our head office received a complaint regarding Mr Brown's web site. Upon investigation, our Customer Services Manager felt that his web site contravened our terms and conditions, ie "Pornographic, offensive, racist, defamatory or copyrighted material is not permitted on your ZY Web Builder pages" and were within our rights to remove his web site."
ZY.com would not say whether they passed on details identifying Christopher Brown as the site owner, but it was a simple matter to check on the Domain Name Registration for "morrisonsplc.com", which shows Christopher's full name and address.
Christopher Brown had raised his grievances with his employers at "Farmers Boy" in Girlington, where he had worked for 4 years, but he felt these were never resolved. When he discovered that the internet Domain Name "Morrisonsplc.com" had not been registered, he took the opportunity in buying the name and creating a web site where he aired his critical opinions.
ZY.com e-mailed Christopher to tell him his site had been scrapped. But that was the least of his worries. He said:
"It all got out of hand then".
A letter from Morrisons solicitors arrived, claiming his site constituted a trade libel, breached copyright laws and infringed the supermarket's intellectual property rights. They also gave him 24 hours to hand over the Domain Name. He told KDIS:
"They sent me a solicitors letter saying I must sign this form and take it into their office at 10 o'clock, and I refused to do it. I refused, I aren't being bullied... And then, when I went back to work they got me in and asked me if I knew anything about it. I said 'yeah, I do know something about it, but it's a civil matter, it's nothing to do with my job'"
He was suspended for "further enquiries". Next day they sacked him.
"They said 'oh, you breached the 'confidentiality rule'' and they pointed at the '£4.54'".
Christopher took his story to the Telegraph & Argus, who carried it prominently despite the fact that Morrisons is one of their major advertisers.
Christopher is now working his way through the companies internal appeals procedure with the backing of his union, USDAW.
A spokesman for Morrisons said:
"Whilst employed at Farmers Boy, Mr Brown secretly created a web site making us the unwitting target of disparaging remarks detrimental to the company's good name and reputation.
"Mr Brown's conduct in this matter was inappropriate and under the circumstances we felt we had no alternative but to dismiss him for gross misconduct. This is certainly a most unfortunate and regrettable situation for all concerned"
Meanwhile the Supermarket giant has just registered the Domain Name "www.morrisonsplc.co.uk" for itself - presumably to stop anyone else with similar ideas
See also: Pay and Conditions - other workers speak out
See also: Morrisons - factfile and Ken Morrison - profile.