Activists have staged a demonstration to highlight the need for the government to ensure the new supermarket watchdog being introduced has the power to fine supermarkets for unfair buying practices that hit the working conditions and environmental practices of suppliers and farmers overseas and in Britain.
Campaigners from leading UK development and environmental charities ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, SPEAK, Traidcraft and War on Want held the protest at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on 17 October
The charities warn that if legislation now going through parliament leaves the proposed supermarket watchdog, the Groceries Code Adjudicator, without the power to fine supermarkets from day one, it will struggle to enforce the Groceries Code and stop supermarkets shifting their risks and unexpected costs onto their suppliers..
They say the government’s proposals to “name and shame” offending supermarkets will not deter them from continuing to engage in unfair trading, despite negative publicity, reinforcing the findings of the Competition Commission’s 2008 investigation into supermarket practices.
Murray Worthy, supermarkets campaigner at War on Want, said: “It is vital the government gives the supermarket watchdog the power to fine. A watchdog that is all bark and no bite won’t be able to stop supermarkets bullying their suppliers.”
Paul Spray, Traidcraft’s policy director, said: “If a supermarket ignores the Groceries Code it has signed up to, it needs more than a slap on the wrist. Giving the watchdog the power to fine sends a strong signal that it means business and developing country suppliers can have confidence that supermarkets will be held to account for their abusive practices”.
The big four supermarkets - Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons - control over 75 per cent of the grocery market in the UK, giving them enormous power to dictate terms and conditions to their suppliers.
The campaigners claim these pressures are often passed on, either through lower wages and poorer conditions for workers or reduced environmental standards.