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Vendors take big issue with alcoholic sell-out

September 16 2011
 Critics say tabards will damage vendors‘ image


The Big Issue has sparked further controversy over allegations that vendors are forced to pay for tabards bearing the logo of a wine company sponsor.

The Big Issue signed a controversial deal with wine company Fairhills that from August saw vendors wearing ‘high visibility’ red tabards with the Fairhills logo emblazoned on the back. But many feel that forcing vendors - some of whom struggle with alcohol addiction - to pay to wear tabards with wine branding is inappropriate.

Vendors must pay £15 for a tabard if they want to continue selling The Big Issue, according to the magazine. The highly-criticised move will be the first time that Big Issue tabards have been used for marketing purposes. The decision has faced much opposition, especially from those who fear that it will increase stereotypes and damage the image of the vendors.

The Big Issue maintains that the £15 is a deposit and that vendors may return them if they are still in good condition. However, some have told The Pavement that they are worried that rain and snow will erode the lettering, resulting in a loss of their deposit.

Big Issue salesman Ben said: “I am an alcoholic and refuse outright to wear a tabard advertising wine. It’s like they’re profiting from my misfortune and forcing me to pay to wear it. It is just wrong.”

One source close to the Big Issue’s headquarters, revealed that despite being highly criticised, management have told vendors that there is no exception and every vendor has to wear them. “Vendors were told if they didn’t have tabards, they would lose their spot even though £15 could potentially have bought them 15 magazines,” she said. “They were even going to charge vendors for the plastic covers that kept their magazines dry when it rained.”

The Big Issue insisted that if vendors are struggling to pay the £15, they have four months to do so and it may be paid in instalments. If vendors have old tabards, then they are allowed to exchange them.

The Big Issue regional manager for London and South East, Tristan Wallis, said that that genuine wear and tear of the tabards was to be expected and the deposit would be returned as long as it wasn’t “vandalised and defaced purposely”.

He told The Pavement that Fairhills fit into the company’s ethos; “Fairhills is an organic wine company. If it was canned lager, then it would be different. If another company was prepared to offer sponsorship then, of course, we would have gone with them.”

Vendors buy the magazine for £1 and sell them for £2, keeping a £1 profit for themselves. Those affected feel that the tabard price is too expensive despite the option to use instalments.

Big Issue founder John Bird dismissed the arguments as puritanical, adding: “The biggest temptation for homeless people with drink problems is to be found in the money they get for selling. That really is a big issue.”