Customers get what they bargain for

9 October 2009
Earlier this week, protesters upped the ante in their bid to get the government to approve an independent regulator to oversee relationships between retailers and their suppliers. Dressed as gagged-and-bound farmers and suit-clad “supermarket bigwigs”, campaigners from charity Action Aid and workers’ rights organisation War on Want stood outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in the hope of getting Lord Mandelson to back the proposals. I feel for the farmers and small suppliers suffering as a result of pressure from supermarkets. But how much responsibility should fall at our feet as consumers? My own belt is tightening, and given options at the checkout I’ll take the cheaper one every time. Of course, this has potential implications on the quality of the product and how it was produced. But as a consumer, as long as I have the choice, it’s my choice to make. Which begs the question – should I be able to buy a whole chicken for £1.99? Is it the responsibility of the retailer to provide only quality produce at a high enough cost that enables them to pass on more profit to suppliers without eating away at their own margins? How do supermarkets reconcile the demands of their customers with the needs of vulnerable suppliers while competition between the big four is so rife? I’m not sure an industry ombudsman will break this vicious circle.
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