John Lewis
John Lewis has been criticised for continuing to run advertising campaigns with right-wing print publications iStock

UK retailerJohn Lewis came under further pressure on Friday (25 November) to discontinue advertising with newspapers such as The Sun, The Daily Mail and Daily Express as a number of its Partners wrote to the store's in-house magazine backing the Stop Funding Hate campaign. The Gazette, John Lewis's Partners' magazine, published two pages of letters from staff expressing their disappointment and criticising the store's hypocrisy after it issued a statement defending its position.

The campaign aims to persuade major brands to withdraw its advertising and other promotions from the newspapers which it claims are publishing "divisive hate campaigns". Despite mounting pressure on John Lewis, the company issued a statement on November 14 which said while the store "understands the strength of feeling", it would not "make an editorial judgement on a particular newspaper".

A source at John Lewis who wanted to remain anonymous told IBTimes UK about growing discontent within its workforce over the store's decision to continue its commercial relationships with the newspapers in question. They said: "The Partnership likes to make a point of its ethics, but would appear to be quite happy to turn a blind eye when it comes to who it pays for advertising.

"Effectively ignoring Stop Funding Hate rather than following Lego's lead has naturally led to a lot of discontent throughout the Partnership rank and file. This has been exacerbated further by the unilateral statement from management, having given the Partners who supposedly co-own the business no say in this policy."

Much of the concern expressed in the letters centred on the decision being taken despite the store's status as a co-operative, which means its employees are partners and co-own the business. The source added that customer-facing partners were now subject to questioning by customers "regarding a decision they have had no say in".

'Customers do make editorial judgements'

In one letter, a Partner questioned whether John Lewis would be prepared to advertise with the official newspaper of Islamic State (Isis), Dabiq, because, they wrote: "I have to assume the company I'm a co-owner of thinks there is no cause that's too unethical or too abhorrent for us to support," the correspondent, writing under the name 'Demonised and Let Down,' added "the fact remains that many of my friends and family will not be spending any money with the Partnership this Christmas because they DO make editorial judgements".

Another letter argued that it could not "balance that statement with what the Partnership's stance would be if it were a partner...using derogatory language based on a person's sexuality or country of origin...I am a co-owner in the business and...the decision that has been made means that I am funding hate."

One Partner, referring to a UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein telling the UK government it should take steps to tackle "anti-foreigner abuse" in the British Press, said: "We need to stop selling the gutter rags that fuel and legitimise hate crime."

Another letter described John Lewis' statement as "frankly absurd", and added: "Being associated with hateful newspapers is damaging to our brand and how the public perceive us. I do not want to be on the wrong side of this debate."

Other comments condemned the editorial policy of the publications and argued that the Partnership frequently made purchasing decisions based on ethical judgements.

In response to the letters, John Lewis' chairman, Charlie Mayfield, wrote that while he personally had "sympathy" with some of the opinions expressed by Partners, he argued: "The John Lewis Partnership is founded on democratic principles, including freedom of speech."

He continued: "We are also constitutionally apolitical." He added that withdrawing advertising because of the Stop Funding Hate campaign would be "inconsistent with these principles".

In a statement yesterday, the band Vaults, which recorded the music for this year's John Lewis Christmas advert issued a statement backing the Stop Funding Hate campaign. Though the group said John Lewis was a "great company" they also added: "This year's political events have sharpened our sense of responsibility to speak freely and in good faith." They announced the band will donate any funds received from the advert to the Help Refugees charity.