Sainsbury Said to Have Probed Workers' Use of Company Resources

  • Inquiry said to have focused on employees’ use of suppliers
  • Sainsbury says probe unrelated to investigation of chairman

U.K. grocer J Sainsbury Plc consulted auditors to help shape an investigation into allegations that employees misused company resources after a worker flagged potential violations of policy, according to people familiar with the situation.

The company hired forensic investigators at the accounting firm Deloitte in 2013 to advise on the scope of the inquiry, which looked into whether workers in Sainsbury’s property services division tapped the retailer’s suppliers for private projects, the people said. The internally conducted probe involved a handful of employees, one person said.

Sainsbury says the probe is unrelated to another inquiry, dating back to the same period, which found that Chairman David Tyler violated Sainsbury’s code on ethical conduct by enlisting employee and supplier help in a refurbishment of his weekend home.

David Tyler

Source: EMPICS Sport/AP Photos

The company declined to answer questions about the two separate inquiries, including the specific dates when each began and ended. Sainsbury also declined to say whether any employees were disciplined as a result of the investigation of the property division. Deloitte declined to comment on the matter, citing client confidentiality.

Tyler, who has been chairman of the London-based grocer since 2009, stepped forward and volunteered the information that prompted the investigation into his conduct, Sainsbury said in a statement in January, when it was reported by the Guardian newspaper. Tyler paid 5,000 pounds ($6,100) to charity to resolve the issue.

The probe involving Sainsbury’s property division was prompted by a dispute between an employee and a supplier, leading the company to look at workers’ relationships with contractors more widely, a person familiar with the situation said. The division operates more than 1,200 stores, ranging from convenience formats to supermarkets to mixed-use developments.

Sainsbury, the U.K.’s second-largest grocer after Tesco Plc, says its commitment to ethical business differentiates it from rivals. In the company’s 2016 annual report Tyler said the company’s values formed the basis for its strategy.

Under Chief Executive Officer Mike Coupe, Sainsbury’s sales have been resilient in the face of inroads in the U.K. grocery sector from discounters Aldi and Lidl. Amid stagnant growth in the industry, Coupe last year struck a 1.4 billion-pound deal to acquire the general merchandise chain Argos. Before becoming chairman of Sainsbury, Tyler served as finance director at retailer GUS Plc, which owned Argos until about 10 years ago.