A handful of supermarkets is dominating the EU market. In some cases they singularly control over one third of the national market (like Albert Heijn in the Netherlands). Their power enables chains to get away with not complying with or unilaterally changing agreements with suppliers and exacting lower prices; often at the expense of producers and employees. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) supports the Traidcraft campaign that aims to compel Brussels to tackle unfair trade practices by large supermarket chains.

With parties such as Traidcraft, Oxfam Germany and Consumer International, SOMO is part of a consortium* focused on addressing the excesses of the growing power of European supermarkets in the food chain. The consortium also wants to enable the enforcement of European rules designed to combat unfair supermarket practices. As decisions on this subject are due to be taken soon, now is the time to put pressure on the European Parliament and Commission in Brussels. Read more about the Traidcraft campaign that sends its message to the European Parliament via emails.

Taking measures

On 31 January 2013 it was decided on the European level that unfair trade practices should be prevented. Although various EU member states have taken measures, this does not apply to all European countries. If the Netherlands hopes to achieve an economically healthy and sustainable food production, it should start offering Dutch and international suppliers guarantees for fair buying practices, says Myriam Vander Stichele, senior researcher at SOMO. Read more here.

Spilling the Beans

Precarious work in Morocco’s green beans production for Dutch supermarkets

Examples in the mango and green bean sector

In connection to the aforementioned consortium, research was performed into the working conditions in supermarket chains, including the green bean sector in Morocco and the mango sector in Peru. These studies clearly show that the employee situation is far from ideal.

Based on these issues a stakeholder dialogue (web page is Dutch only) between supermarket representatives, NGOs and the government took place earlier this year.

Update 27/09/2013:
Recently 82 companies have signed an initiative to promote best practice in the food supply chain, including Tesco, Coca Cola and Carrefour. However, Consumer International has reacted negatively to the launch, saying it is a smokescreen to avoid European Union legislation. Read more.

* SOMO is part of a European group of CSOs that want to address the current practices of European supermarkets and the way in which they impact farmers and workers via: low pay, forced overtime and precarious employment. Other members of the consortium are Traidcraft (UK), Consumers International (UK/EU wide), Oxfam Germany, Christliche Iniative Romero (Germany), and the Association of Conscious Consumers (Hungary). The consortium aims to raise public awareness and subsequently build support for responsible supply chains. The programme started in July 2011 and will run for three years. Plans encompass joint advocacy at the EU level, research, campaigning, films and publications for various audiences.