The Big Issue Foundation has been slammed by its own magazine sellers for asking them to wear tabards sponsored by a wine company.

The homelessness charity has signed a £60,000 deal to advertise the Fairhills Fairtrade wine brand on new high-visibility red tabards, which will be worn by its magazine vendors from 1 August.

But critics branded the deal “disgusting” and insensitive to vendors battling alcohol or drug problems.

“They are making a big mistake,” vendor Matthew Blackman told the Daily Mail. “Even though they are being paid a lot of money, it’s still bad publicity. It’s like some bad, ironic joke.”

Another vendor from Bath added: “If it is helping the Big Issue then it is important but I think the company should provide some kind of support to vendors on how to get off the alcohol.”

The Big Issue’s chief executive, Stephen Robertson, said the vendors would decide whether or not to wear the tabards.

“We don’t work with companies that directly undermine our ethos and if vendors feel they are not at the stage where they are happy to wear the jacket that is their choice,” he said. “We are not insisting that they wear it and if they don’t want to then we respect that.”

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Two Fairhills wines listed in Morrisons (13 February 2010)