The power of supermarkets

The power of supermarkets

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By Nazaret Castro

Multinational corporations have become a fundamental actor in the capitalist system in its phase of globalization both in the production and in the distribution of goods. In 2007, the largest company in the world by sales volume, according to the Fortune Global 500 list, was the American multinational distribution company Wal-Mart; Also in the top 100 list were Carrefour (number 33 in the ranking), Tesco (51) and Kroger (87).

The fantasy of the consumer's “oasis of freedom” generated by shelves loaded with colorful packages of different shapes and sizes hides the reality that our options are increasingly limited: almost all of these products are made by a small group of large multinationals, and They are sold in a handful of hypermarket chains or discount stores that belong to the same group.

It is the so-called funnel theory: on one side there are millions of consumers; on the other, thousands of producers; and in the middle, a few distribution chains that set the rules of the game, pay low prices to producers and privilege industrialized and unhealthy products and “kilometer-long” or “traveling” foods on their shelves, which come from the other corner of world. The most obvious consequence is the unequal forces of food producers when placing their products: according to a 2007 calculation by the Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Agricultores (Coag), the average difference between the price paid to producers of food and the amount paid by the final consumer is around 390%. It is estimated that more than 60% of the profit goes to distributors.

But the rule of maximum profit also applies within these large chains, to their workers. Esther Vivas assures that the employees of these corporations "are subject to a strict neo-Taylorist labor organization characterized by intense work rhythms, repetitive and routine tasks and with little autonomy of decision" and, increasingly, large hypermarkets are betting on precarious employment and temporary, with atypical hours that include weekends and make it impossible to reconcile work life with social life. In some of these centers, according to the author, “an anti-union policy is carried out” through “illegal practices” that hinder the right to assembly and the creation of unions.

Labor exploitation, ridiculous prices for producers, contamination by transport of "kilometer food". All of this "allows" products to reach the shelves of hypermarkets much cheaper than those of traditional local shops.

The sociologist Christian Topalov, in his work Capitalist urbanization, argued 35 years ago that at least part of the money that we supposedly save on the price of the product is spent on fuel and time. And in quality of life, although that is more difficult to quantify in euros.

The big supermarkets suppose, adds Topalov, a backward movement in the social division of the work: before the small merchants were in charge of transporting the merchandise until very near our house; now, this work is done by the consumer himself, who has to travel a certain distance, and often necessarily necessarily needs the car to do so. The fact that consumers are now doing something that retailers used to do means that, considering society as a whole, the distribution of goods requires more work time and also implies more spending on transport and more pollution.

From the 3 × 2 promotions to the arrangement of the shelves, every detail is geared towards making us buy more products than we need, and often, to acquire industrialized and unhealthy food. Capital gains, but what about us? Surely not, and more and more consumers are beginning to understand it and look for alternatives, such as the creation of consumer groups and direct purchases from cooperatives and small producers.

Center for Solidarity Collaborations CCS

Video: Imbalance of power between farmers and supermarkets (June 2022).


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  3. Cillian

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  4. Ambros

    And what is the result ..

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  6. Arnaud

    Tell me who can I ask

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