Sustain (the alliance for real food and farming) recent research briefing ‘Supermarket Failure’ provides a bleak reminder of the current state of the UK’s food system. They describe an all too familiar scenario: a supermarket-dominated trading model characterised by low wages to retail workers, poor pay ratios between lowest and highest paid employees as well as unfair trading practices that financially cripple suppliers, farmers and in turn their workers.
A particularly stark statistic referenced in the report was that the “highest users of Working Tax Credit – a benefit paid to workers with a low family income – was retail (£1.3bn) of which 37% is food related.” So whilst supermarkets account for a large chunk of Britain’s workers, it is clear that the UK taxpayer is potentially subsidising the wage bill of some of the country’s biggest employers. Meanwhile suppliers, farmers and associated workers continue to face a financial squeeze whilst writers such as Felicity Lawrence expose evidence of modern slavery in our global food system.
Juxtapose this with the recent news that Lee Greens a local, not for profit, organic box scheme in South London have recently completed a move to new packing premises to allow the scheme to expand to more customers. Like all the other Better Food Traders, Lee Greens brings, planet-friendly food to its community. And like all other Better Food Traders, Lee Greens represents an alternative trading model from the mainstream. Not for profit means you don’t have to worry about shareholders, Better Food Traders trade directly with farmers (resulting in short, transparent supply chains) and so can work to ensure that farmers and growers are paid fairly, box scheme staff are paid fairly and that the price to box scheme members is fair too. So if you care about planet and people then it’s worth considering how the money is distributed in the organisations that sell you your food. Then look for organisations like Better Food Traders that are set up to ensure a greater standard of transparency and fairness for everyone working in that supply chain.
For more information about modern slavery and the food system see Felicity Lawrence https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/02/modern-slavery-daily-life-exploitation-goods-services
See Sustain for information about pay and conditions for UK agricultural workers https://www.sustainweb.org/publications/why_pick_crops_newreport/