UN, producers must also be protected to guarantee the right to food


UN, producers must also be protected to guarantee the right to food

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Oliver De Schutter (appointed in March 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council), indicates the need to control the excessive power of intermediaries and large retailers to guarantee the rights of peoples to food and adequate living conditions.

In the recent report Addressing concentrations in food supply chains [The Role of Competition Law in Tackling the Abuse of Buyer Power] , De Schutter faces openly the issue of unfair commercial practices that large intermediaries and distributors often implement to the detriment of both primary agricultural production and food processing.

The imbalance between the negotiating powers of the few giants who buy and those of tens of thousands of small producers is a well-known problem, which the European Parliament has already pointed out . And it is spreading like wildfire, to the point that even in emerging countries with a strong rural connotation, such as Brazil and Argentina, supermarket chains have now reached a share of 60-70% on the retail market for food sales. .

In the absence of rules, buyers can apply the most unfair commercial practices to their suppliers, which manifest themselves in the substantial denial of the value of agricultural raw materials and foodstuffs, putting the survival of businesses and the livelihood of their workers at risk.

Not only that: these practices also harm the consumer , because the “(in-) natural selection” of producers inevitably reduces his ability to choose and the availability of quality products. Finally, the distribution giants can control the market and alter prices as they please.

The UN Special Rapporteur concludes his analysis with precise recommendations:

– it is necessary to work with determination (both in developed and developing countries, DCs) for the rapid adaptation of the regulations on competition and market protection , so as to protect agricultural and food producers who, like consumers , they represent the “weak links” of the supply chain;

– these regulations must also take into account respect for human rights. Agriculture is still the first sector where child labor takes place (70% worldwide, 132 million workers aged 5-14);

– independent supervisory authorities must then be set up , equipped with suitable economic means to effectively verify compliance with the rules. To this end, developed countries should offer support to developing ones.

Initiatives aimed at countering the abuses of power by large buyers are flourishing in every part of the world. De Schutter points out the recent declaration of the European Parliament “on a study and solutions to the abuse of power of large supermarkets operating in the European Union” . And the Groceries Supply Code of Practice ( Gscop) entered into force on 4 February 2010 in the United Kingdom, where the Competition Commission itself recommended the creation of an Ombudsman to ensure the application of the new Code. Overseas, the US Department of Justice and Agriculture is still studying what to do.


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