Supermarket Power Project
The Former CLEN Director, Professor Caron Beaton-Wells, lead a four-year research project entitled "Regulating Australia's retail grocery sector - goals, actors and techniques", funded by the Australian Research Council.
The project is seeking to reach academic and non-academic audiences through a wide range of publications and channels. The researchers have conducted extensive interviews and encourages active involvement with and by a broader audience including industry stakeholders, the government and the public by producing, and responding to, traditional media content; participating on a range of relevant blog and other social media sites.
We are engaging with academic audiences around Australia and the world through the publication of conference papers and articles in national and international journals throughout the life of the project.
WHAT WE ARE WORKING ON
Supermarket-Supplier Relations: Codes of Conduct
We are having input to the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct Review that is currently underway. Introduced in 2015, the FGCC regulates the conduct of those supermarket retailers and wholesalers who have agreed to be bound by the code in their dealings with suppliers. The review is intended to ensure that the Code is working effectively as the first prescribed voluntary code under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Treasury has appointed Professor Graeme Samuel AC to lead the review and consultation with a range of stakeholders is taking place. Key issues for consideration in the Review will include: whether the Code should remain voluntary or be made mandatory; whether the conduct provisions of the Code are sufficiently comprehensive and prescriptive and in particular whether the good faith provision should be strengthened; whether the dispute resolution provisions are providing a fair, equitable and effective mechanism for resolving disputes; and whether the enforcement framework is sufficient, including whether pecuniary penalties for breaches of the Code should be produced. We have met with Graeme Samuel and members of the Treasury team to discuss the issues and, as a result of that discussion, have made a preliminary submission focused on the scope and drafting of the obligation of good faith in the Code. This submission can be read here. We have also made a more fulsome public submission in response to the Draft Report published by the Review in June 2018. A link will be provided once it is published on the Review site. The final report from the Review is due by September 2018.
We are also working on a paper that compares and analyses the differences between the Australian code and its UK counterpart, the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP), which took effect in 2010. The paper will highlight the salient differences between the dispute resolution and enforcement framework that applies under the FGCC and that which applies under GSCOP, central to which is the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Drawing on more than 70 interviews with stakeholders, our extensive report on the background to and practical experience in implementation of the FGCC to date can be accessed here. Please contact us by email if you would like to receive a copy of our shorter analysis of what has and what hasn’t worked in the experience with the FGCC over the last three years: Beaton-Wells, C. and Paul-Taylor, J, "A Code of Conduct for Supermarket-Supplier Relations: Has it worked?" (2018) 46 Australian Business Law Review 6.
For more information on these two papers please contact Professor Caron Beaton-Wells
Consumer Power: Consumers as Citizens in the Supermarketisation Era
We are currently working on two papers addressing the role of consumers as citizens in the supermarketisation era. Both will prosecute claims that national and global food systems have since the 1960s been subject to an ongoing, complex process of supermarketisation that essentially biases food production, processing and consumption practices to generate large pools of finance and cultural capital for supermarkets. Along the way, supermarkets have emerged with a multi-faceted authority that legitimises their power to regulate their own activities and the activities of suppliers, and to negotiate with government authorities over matters as diverse as food standards, urban planning and competition policy.
The first paper draws on substantial scholarship and provides a socio-political context to critically examine the claim that consumers and, more particularly, consumer-citizens, have and/or are using their power in ways that are effective to challenge supermarket supremacy in food systems. The paper charts major developments and shifts in the nature of consumerism and considers the extent to, and ways in which, supermarkets are responding to consumer-citizen preferences and concerns. It also examines the role of government in the evolving dynamic between supermarkets and consumer-citizens.
For more information on this paper please contact Honorary Associate Professor Jane Dixon
The second, an empirically-based paper, reality tests the proposition made by supermarkets that power has shifted in favour of consumers within food systems. As with the first, we recognise that this shift has been attributed to both the entry of new competitors such as Aldi and on-line disruptors, and to the associated rise of a citizenry competent in expressing their consumer needs. Broadly speaking, this study focuses on the second development, while recognising the first, and draws on the Supermarket Power Project’s extensive existing interview data along with additional interviews targeting specific areas of citizen-consumer concern. We aim to create a series of case-studies that will illustrate under what circumstances the supermarket-consumer-citizen dynamic lies behind new product lines, standards and labels and corporate responsibility initiatives; and we will draw attention to where consumer concerns are not being addressed.
For more information on this paper please contact Research Fellow Jo Paul
Food Delivery Regulation: Competition for the Household Meal
We are working on a paper that contributes to the debate about regulation of the gig economy by asking where the demand for this kind of work and worker originates. The paper will present findings from a study of the emerging competition – involving supermarkets, cafes and restaurants and new digitally linked kitchens-aggregators – to provide ready meals to the home. Recognising that all participants in these food, transport and labour markets are seeking to gain a competitive advantage from the new technologies, economies and regulations of provision, the study asks: who are the suppliers, consumers, packers, transporters, aggregators, unions and municipalities involved in this competition and how do they operate and interact? Such findings help target regulation of the remuneration and security of work, the safety and amenability of urban spaces, and the nutrition of households.
For more information on this paper please contact Adjunct Professor Christopher Arup
Market failures in the Australian horticulture supply chain: causes and responses 1913-2015
We are also working on a paper that traces the path to the introduction of the Horticulture Code of Conduct (HCC) in 2007 and explores the reasons for its lack of effect. The research recognises that the context for the establishment of the HCC was an increasing perception dating from the late 1990s that the major supermarkets possessed excessive market power, and that this concern in part related to the supermarkets dealings with upstream suppliers amid accusations that the outcomes were ‘unfairly and unreasonably weighted against the growing community’. The paper will consider the two concerns facing growers of fruit and vegetables: a century old belief about ‘unfair’ trading conditions in the central wholesale; and the more recent rise of the supermarkets to become the dominant customer for fresh fruit and vegetables.
For more information on this paper please contact Emeritus Professor David Merrett
Organised by Melbourne Law School, hosted by State Library of Victoria
Friday 27 October 2017
2018 marks important milestones in the ongoing debate about the role and impact of the major supermarket chains in Australia’s grocery sector, economy and society.
Next year is the 10th anniversary of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s significant report into grocery prices, the year in which there will be a government review of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct introduced in 2015 and five years since the first Supermarket Power Symposium convened by the University of Melbourne and Monash University.
Hosted by the University of Melbourne in 2017, this academically guided symposium brings together representatives from industry, government, the legal profession and civic society to explore key issues relating to competition, fair trading and consumers, reflecting on significant developments over the last decade and looking ahead to foreshadow future directions in the sector.
Inspired by a major research project being conducted by the University, the symposium has a particular focus on analysing and assessing the approach taken to regulation of competition and fair trading in the sector and draws for this purpose on insights from overseas experience.
The Symposium is organised by Professor Caron Beaton-Wells, in conjunction with Emeritus Professor David Merrett of the University of Melbourne, Adjunct Professor Christopher Arup of Monash University, Honorary Associate Professor Jane Dixon of the Australian National University, and Research Fellow Jo Paul of the University of Melbourne.