I had to write this post in English, I had to. (Second part of two)
The terrible scenes that we saw on Channel4 story have multiple roots, and not all of them fall on the Spanish side. Let’s begin by saying that yes, in Spain we have a legal frame that is inefficient in tackling situations like the ones we saw, there’s not enough supervision as dozens of labor inspectors have been laid off due to budget cuts, it is very easy for agencies to pull from workers more than they should, and companies like the ones depicted have a very tight situation with lack of incentives and high tax pressure. If we put on top of that a tremendous pressure towards low prices, the first and easiest victims of this plot are workers and their wages, because it’s the most evident way of cutting down production costs, though it’s not the only one nor the most effective. What brings me to the next big issue, which is that every retailer in Europe is using food as a decoy and to do so they are on a price war, whose only casualty are the farmers. Retail is pushing prices lower and lower every day, but neither distributors, middlemen, auction houses, nobody is losing hardly any profit, farmers are. Bargains don’t happen accidentally, somebody pays for them, always.
So my next questions are: Don’t we all want workers to receive fair wages? Don’t we all agree that in order to pay fair wages, farmers must be paid reasonable prices for their produce? Why can’t we see the contradiction between having to pay fair wages and receiving miserable prices for the food? If we see the contradiction we must assume one of the following:
- The price war is insane and we as consumers should demand retailers to optimize the supply chain so food doesn’t have to change hands so many times and avoid unnecessary mark-ups.
- Then we as consumers should assume a reasonable price increase as long as it is used only to guarantee the farmer’s profitability, often the increase wouldn’t be any higher than 5% as long as it reaches the farmer.
- If retailers want to keep prices low, then they should reduce their profits, but profits on perishables are usually quite low, however there are steps in the supply chain that could be improved and save some money there.
- The problem with reducing profits is that retailers’ shares fall, and there is where our everyday micro-economy collides with the hegemonic macro-economy, shareholders really don’t care for anything but their profits, so another contradiction there, even harder to solve than the one before.
- We as citizens should support all across Europe policies of fair wages, fair employment conditions and sustainable supply chains money-wise. Liberalizing things doesn’t do any good to any of us next-door citizens to whom the big financial markets are on one end inaccessible and on the other they condition almost everything we do. So we should really pay more attention to that. To fall for the politicians who claim that markets are the never-ending source of jobs; that free trade is the key to all sorts of social development, is to fall for the chants of a mermaid, real economy is not that, real world is not that. We should think about it, and think real hard.
So to finish up this piece shortly, I have a few questions left for our friends in Channel4:
- Can we say that exploitation conditions in Spain are related to market pressure?
- Would you also follow the tracks of the farmer’s profitability the other way around? See how many pennies from the price that Brits pay for their salad end up in the pocket of the Spanish farmer, what happens to the rest?
- Would you acknowledge that purchase policies of retailers are fierce?
- Would you talk to Spanish and European officials about the regulations of temping agencies and the loopholes that allow such exploitation to happen?
- Would you tell British consumers that their salads should be a couple of pennies more expensive in order to be fair?
- If Spain is the most reliable source of produce for the UK, shouldn’t you gather some more information in order to have a better picture?
- If not in Spain, do you think UK’s salads have real alternatives to be grown in the winter in safer, more fair, more suitable countries? Can you imagine what happens outside the EU?
Certainly your piece should change things dramatically, and I truly hope so, so when things are indeed better, please come and tell them just as good as you did with the bad ones, otherwise I might end up thinking (and many more with me) that you are terribly biased.