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Issue #1537      29 February 2012

AMWU takes aim at supermarket duo

The Australian Manufacturing Union (AMWU) this month gave a scathing assessment of Australia’s powerful supermarket duopoly during a Senate inquiry into the food processing industry.

“They are both producers and retailers. They drive out competition to their own products - by any means possible,” AMWU Food and Confectionery Division National Secretary Jennifer Dowell told the inquiry in Sydney.

Ms Dowell warned the duopoly had cornered Australia’s limited food market with the rise of its own private labels, typically sourced and manufactured overseas.

“They put their own private labels on the shelves not because they are better quality, not because they are necessarily cheaper, not because there is a huge demand from consumers but they do it to increase their profits.”

She said Coles and Woolworths were driving independent brand manufacturers out of the market or offshore, meaning the loss of manufacturing jobs, impacts on local economies and the capacity to produce food for Australia long term.

“They dictate product lines, burdensome storage and delivery requirements, packaging, marketing terms. They often dictate complex and stringent requirements in contracts that they can almost amend or terminate at will.”

Ms Dowell urged the Senate select committee to recommend whatever it took to break up the stranglehold of the duopoly. This includes greater oversight and controls to remove anti-competitive practices and improve market access.

“The retail food and grocery market in Australia is failing consumers, suppliers, our communities, our industries, our workers and ultimately our ability to maintain the capability to produce, process and feed ourselves as a nation.”

The inquiry also heard about the uneven international trade playing field for Australia’s food manufacturers and the need for a tightening of our food labelling laws.

A delegation led by Ms Dowell and comprising AMWU delegates from across the country took their concerns to Canberra to lobby Ministers, Shadow Ministers and backbenchers about the importance of securing jobs in food manufacturing.  

Next article – Amnesty International rips into Australian detention policies

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