Archived press release
Supermarkets: TV chef calls for shake-up of 'big four'

Supermarkets' ever increasing power has devastating implications for people and the environment around the world and should be curbed according to TV chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

In a speech to be given tonight (Wednesday) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and other speakers will call on the government to take action to stop the environmental and social damage caused by the UK's biggest supermarket chains. (1)This includes limiting the growth of the retailers, strengthening local planning rules and ensuring effective controls on how they treat suppliers here and overseas.

The public meeting organised by ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, War on Want and Tescopoly, will expose how the rapid growth of supermarkets around the world is wreaking havoc on farmers, workers, consumers and the environment. Experts and activists on the front line of Supermarkets' snowballing power will tell how they are fighting back - and what people can do to challenge the status quo.

This meeting comes at a crucial time for shoppers, farmers and suppliers as the Competition Commission is investigating whether the UK's big four supermarkets are abusing their power. At the same time a proposed shake up of UK planning rules could allow the supermarkets to gain an even stronger grip on our towns and neighbourhoods.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

"It's a major scandal that the supermarkets have been allowed to have such a corrosive effect on the local and ultimately national food culture. Local producers are bullied and even busted by the aggressive tactics of the supermarket whilst many shopping centres, once the heart of the community, have been standardised or gutted by retail totalitarianism. We need to shout loud for far tighter curbs on supermarket growth and for strong protection for suppliers and shopping diversity."

Rosie Boycott (broadcaster & journalist, chairing the debate)

" The supermarkets are having an increasingly bad effect on farming and the food we eat. Anything that can be done to limit their power, their scope and their reach must be done"

Stacey Mitchell (US Wal-mart campaigner and author)

"The U.S. provides an alarming picture of where the UK is headed if it does not take steps to check the market power of the big superstores and to protect its local businesses and town centres. In less than two decades, large retail chains have become the most powerful corporations in the U.S., transforming the landscape, killing countless downtowns, and destroying tens of thousands of locally owned businesses. Superstores are fuelling many of our most pressing problems, from the shrinking middle class to rising air pollution and diminished civic engagement."

Mireya Rodriguez (Costa Rica Banana Workers representative)

"I've come all this way to inform consumers, the supermarkets and trade unions in Britain about the negative impact on us workers of the companies squeezing our wages and conditions because of their price wars. The lower the prices your supermarkets pay their suppliers, the worse it is for us - the suppliers don't want to employ women any more because they say we cost more, and if we choose to join a union, then they try to sack us."

Tony Juniper, Director of Friend of the Earth

"People are increasingly aware of the hidden consequences of supermarket power. The low prices they force down the food chain that prevent farmers and workers from earning a living wage, the market pressures that force growers to use more chemical-intensive methods, the destruction of local shops, the traffic they generate and the food miles they clock up, thus helping to accelerate climate change. With power comes dominance and with dominance can emerge abuse, and that is the stage we have reached now, and only official agencies can challenge that. That is why urgent robust action by the Competition Commission and by government is needed to ensure that supermarkets are regulated. If official bodies can't stand up to these ever more powerful corporate giants, then who can?"

The four organisations will be asking delegates to write to their MPs (2) and to the Competition Commission with the following demands:

  • A block on any new take-overs by Tesco or other major supermarkets.

  • Stronger planning policies to protect local shops and High Streets.

  • A legally binding supermarket code of practice to ensure that all farmers, at home and overseas, are treated fairly.

  • An independent watchdog with teeth to protect the interests of consumers, farmers and small retailers.

  • Rules to protect workers' rights at home and overseas.

Delegates will also be asked to write to Gordon Brown urging him not to act on Kate Barker's recommendations to weaken retail planning policy in favour of the big supermarkets.

Notes

1) A Public Forum -Wednesday 28th February at the Emmanuel Centre 9-23 Marsham St, Westminster, SWIP 3DW. Doors at 6.30 for a 7.00 start - 8.30pm - Please contact [email protected] if you want to attend as places are severely limited. Photos of the speakers are available. They may be available for interview subject to timings. Contact Vicki Hird 07903 478 249.

2) Earlier in the day there will be a meeting at the House of Commons where MPs will discuss the issues with the speakers and others representing communities affected by the supermarkets. MPs will be asked to demonstrate their support for curbing supermarket power by signing EDM 961 tabled by Andrew George MP.

If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.

 

Published by Friends of the Earth Trust