Fantastic news today for millions of farmers and workers around the world who produce goods for British supermarkets – and for the tens of thousands of people who’ve supported ActionAid’s supermarkets campaign over the past five years.
The government used the Queen’s speech to announce it will bring a ‘supermarket adjudicator’ bill into the new session of parliament. ActionAid has campaigned since 2007for an adjudicator, which will protect farmers and farm workers from unfair treatment by big supermarkets.
Highlights over the last five years include the day that Gertruida Baartman, a fruit picker from South Africa, came to Tesco’s AGM to tell the chief executive about conditions on her farm. Her first time outside South Africa, and in a hall packed with hundreds of shareholders, Gertruida stood up and said: “I am taking a risk to speak out here today. I could lose my job and my home. But I am here before you today because I don't get paid enough to feed my children.”
Then there was the time that ActionAid supporters took the unusual step of donating 5p to Tesco, to highlight how little it would cost the company to ensure workers like Gertruida are paid a decent wage – an extra 5p on every kilo of apples they buy from poor countries, to be precise.
The Competition Commission recommended an adjudicator in April 2008 – another big day for ActionAid – after it found supermarkets guilty of using abusive trading practices with their suppliers.
These include charging producers if their goods were shoplifted in store, or demanding payments from them if the profits on their products weren’t as good as expected. Not only do these practices hurt farmers in the UK and overseas, they also make it nigh on impossible to make desperately needed improvements to farm workers’ pay and conditions.
The adjudicator won’t able to stop all the problems that lurk in supermarket supply chains. But happily for Gertruida and millions of others who earn their living by producing, picking and packing goods for British retailers, the bullying tactics should soon be a thing of the past.
Though we’re not out of the woods just yet. Supermarkets are fighting hard to water down the legislation, so parliamentarians need to stand firm and make sure we get a sharp-toothed watchdog whose bite is worse than its bark!