Friday, September 14, 2007

Who pays for 'cheap' supermarket food??

'There is no such thing as truly cheap food' is something I've long believed. There are many hidden social and environmental costs here and around the globe, now and on into the future, that purchasers just dont have reflected in the cost of goods or supermarkets in the size of their profits. Action Aid illustrate one cost of 'cheap' food with their latest campaign.

I've been involved with Action Aid for some time now as a child sponsor and strongly support its work on reducing global poverty (especially extreme poverty), HIV/AIDS, women's rights, food and hunger, emergencies, and rights to education, security and fair governance. I especially support its current Who Pays? campaign aiming to highlight the fact that its not the major supermarkets like Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury's, and Morrison's who pay the costs of the price war (they make massive profits in fact). The costs are passed to the workers making what many buy, who work long hours for little pay in poor conditions (Action Aid cite examples from South Africa, Bangladesh, Costa Rica and India). Supermarkets force very hard bargains from suppliers who in turn force low pay and conditions, including health, safety and environmental standards.

Action Aid are asking people to sign a pledge card (which I have just done). The pledge says 'Many people around the world who produce goods for the UK supermarkets endure exploitation and poverty. I want government regulation to tackle this problem so I know no-one has suffered producing the goods I buy.'

An independent watchdog, binding rules and keeping supermarkets from abusing their power sounds good to me. I dont really use supermarkets that much anymore (I belong to an organic/local fruit and veg box scheme, use my local corner shop a lot and have meat, fish, dairy and misc. delivered by ordering from an online supplier). Supermarkets are useful for some things now and then though and many people will rely on them for some time yet.

More on Action Aid and their campaign.


  1. It'd be nice if your beloved ActionAid also ran a concurrent campaign for the low-paid in this country to receive an income that would allow them to buy the ultra-expensive food ActionAid is promoting.

    It'd also be nice if ActionAid overtly recognised the supermarket workers and others who "endure exploitation and poverty" in this country.

    Not likely to happen though is it?

    Because is this by any chance the same ActionAid that used to run a very lucrative telephone fundraising operation out of offices on Baldwin Street Bristol?

    Where they used to employ benefit claimants, the low-paid and students at very low hourly rates on zero-hour contracts... Ideal for creating a hiring and firing regime similar to er, a third world world sweat shop!

    At least they did all this until they were rumbled by the trade unions and they sold the business pronto for a large sum.

    How ethical. Just the people to be lecturing us all about the poor and exploited!

  2. I'm very strongly in favour of campaigns for the low-paid and exploited in the UK too. There are many organisations that do this, including Oxfam (who combine it with 'developing world' work), who I've supported along with Action Aid, for yrs and feature on my blog.

    I've been an active trade union rep and steward myself and know first hand what unscrupulous employers can be like. I'm strongly in favour of trade unionism and I know that Action Aid does build alliances with unions to forward its campaigns.

    The focus of Action Aid is the 'developing' world though my opinion is that they would be very happy to see supermarket workers here better paid and not exploited. They'd probably see the same underlying ethics causing both exploitation here and globally.

    I dont agree that Action Aid are promoting ulra-expensive food - can you point to where they are doing this? They aren't for instance saying people should not shop at supermarkets. They want us all to think more broadly about what the total price of food actually is - thinking other than in crude 'pounds out of your pocket' terms, about justice all round the globe now and for generations to come.

    Lets not forget than Action Aid's focus is extreme and absolute poverty in the main...not even being able to consistently meet basic needs like fresh, clean water supplies. Worth supporting dont you think??

    I do of course want organisations to practice what they preach and I'd condemn any unethical practices. I'm not aware of the example from Bristol you refer to though - if you have any further info on this I'd be interested to look at it. If I became unhappy with an organisation I regularly give money and time to I'd transfer my support elsewhere.


Genuine, open, reasonable debate is most welcome. Comments that meet this test will always be published.