British NGO's call for curb on supermarkets

Posted: 26 February 2007

Supermarkets' ever increasing power has devastating implications for people and the environment around the world and should be curbed according to the British TV chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

In a speech on 26 February Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and other speakers call on the government to take action to stop the environmental and social damage caused by the UK's biggest supermarket chains. This includes limiting the growth of the retailers, strengthening local planning rules and ensuring effective controls on how they treat suppliers here and overseas.

A public meeting organised by ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, War on Want and Tescopoly, will (they say) expose how the rapid growth of supermarkets around the world is wreaking havoc on farmers, workers, consumers and the environment - and discuss what people can do to challenge the status quo.

This meeting comes at a crucial time for shoppers, farmers and suppliers as the Competition Commission is investigating whether the UK's big four supermarkets are abusing their power. At the same time a proposed shake up of UK planning rules could allow the supermarkets to gain an even stronger grip on towns and neighbourhoods.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall says,"It's a major scandal that the supermarkets have been allowed to have such a corrosive effect on the local and ultimately national food culture. Local producers are bullied and even busted by the aggressive tactics of the supermarket whilst many shopping centres, once the heart of the community, have been standardised or gutted by retail totalitarianism. We need to shout loud for far tighter curbs on supermarket growth and for strong protection for suppliers and shopping diversity."

Banana workers Rosie Boycott, a broadcaster and journalist, chairs the debate. She says,"The supermarkets are having an increasingly bad effect on farming and the food we eat. Anything that can be done to limit their power, their scope and their reach must be done"

According to Stacey Mitchell, a US Wal-mart campaigner and author, "The US provides an alarming picture of where the UK is headed if it does not take steps to check the market power of the big superstores and to protect its local businesses and town centres. In less than two decades, large retail chains have become the most powerful corporations in the US, transforming the landscape, killing countless downtowns, and destroying tens of thousands of locally owned businesses. Superstores are fuelling many of our most pressing problems, from the shrinking middle class to rising air pollution and diminished civic engagement."

Mireya Rodriguez, a representative of the Costa Rica Banana Workers, will tell the meeting,"I've come all this way to inform consumers, the supermarkets and trade unions in Britain about the negative impact on us workers of the companies squeezing our wages and conditions because of their price wars. The lower the prices your supermarkets pay their suppliers, the worse it is for us - the suppliers don't want to employ women any more because they say we cost more, and if we choose to join a union, then they try to sack us."

Tony Juniper, Director of Friends of the Earth says people are increasingly aware of the hidden consequences of supermarket power..."the low prices they force down the food chain that prevent farmers and workers from earning a living wage, the market pressures that force growers to use more chemical-intensive methods, the destruction of local shops, the traffic they generate and the food miles they clock up, thus helping to accelerate climate change.

"With power comes dominance and with dominance can emerge abuse, and that is the stage we have reached now, and only official agencies can challenge that. That is why urgent robust action by the Competition Commission and by government is needed to ensure that supermarkets are regulated. If official bodies can't stand up to these ever more powerful corporate giants, then who can?"

The four organisations aim to put pressure on Members of Parliamnet and on the Competition Commission for:

  • A block on any new take-overs by Tesco or other major supermarkets.
  • Stronger planning policies to protect local shops and High Streets.
  • A legally binding supermarket code of practice to ensure that all farmers, at home and overseas, are treated fairly.
  • An independent watchdog with teeth to protect the interests of consumers, farmers and small retailers.
  • Rules to protect workers' rights at home and overseas.

    Source: Friends of the Earth Press Release 26th February 2007