Supermarkets have used their buyer power to squeeze suppliers and drive down pay and working conditions around the world. This means the people that make the clothes and grow the food sold in UK supermarkets are often poorly paid, overworked, work in unsafe conditions and are discouraged from joining trade unions. We wouldn’t accept this situation in the UK, so why should they?
After War on Want and other campaigners exposed the way supermarkets were using their power to bully their suppliers, the Competition Commission investigated and found that the voluntary code that supermarkets had put in place had failed. In its 2008 report it found that supermarkets passed ‘excessive risks and unexpected costs’ onto their suppliers, through forcing them to accept unfair terms of conditions. The report recommended setting up a new code of practice that governs supermarkets relationships with their suppliers and called for a new watchdog to stop unfair practices.
In 2012 the government finally responded to campaigners demand to introduce a watchdog, introducing a bill into parliament to establish a Groceries Code Adjudicator to oversee the new code of practice. This was a huge success for supermarket campaigners, both in getting government proposals into parliament and getting key measures included, like making sure trade unions can bring complaints, not just supplier bosses.
While the proposals are a huge step forwards, the bill risks setting up a watchdog that won’t be powerful enough to get supermarkets to change their ways, with only the power to ‘name and shame’ supermarkets, not to fine them. We know from our years of campaigning that exposing supermarkets abuses is not enough to make them change – only by affecting their profits by fining them can they be made to change.
Take action now and ask your MP to support a supermarket watchdog that has the power to fine.