Traidcraft and the National Farmers Union have just published a joint report that calls for a supermarket watchdog to cover the whole of the European Union.
The report shows that 10 EU member states have introduced rules to stop supermarkets using unfair trading practices with farmers and food supplier companies, and that another five countries are planning to bring in new measures.
So if countries are taking action at the national level, why would we need EU-wide rules and a watchdog to enforce them?
Firstly, many of the national rules are voluntary, meaning they offer weak protection for farmers and suppliers. Even those that are legally binding aren’t enforced by a watchdog-type body, leaving it down to suppliers to take action themselves. But hardly any do, as they fear losing business with supermarkets. So an EU watchdog would allow suppliers to file complaints against a supermarket where currently they can’t.
Secondly, a multinational industry needs multinational rules. Supermarkets across the EU buy goods in other EU countries and ship them back home. But if, for example, a French supermarket uses unfair practices against a tomato grower in Spain, the Spanish authorities have no way of doing anything about it. An EU-wide watchdog would fill this ‘regulatory void’, and it could also protect suppliers based outside the EU in developing countries.
Lastly, an EU framework would save duplication for countries that don’t want bring in national rules, and provide a model for countries that do.
Will this actually happen? Not surprisingly there are some pretty big obstacles, including the lobbying power of supermarkets. But a serious debate is happening at the European Commission, which has set up a High Level Forum to consider these issues and report on its findings this summer.
If you'd like to find out more about the campaign for a European watchdog and sign the online action, go to the make fruit fair website