Sector Overview : Overview

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"The power in the food system lies in the hands of the supermarkets, food processors and other corporate middle-men."


The Corporate Control of the food chain

The big UK supermarket chains are amongst the most powerful companies operating in the UK and globally. Wal-Mart, who own Asda, are the biggest company in the world.

Whilst supermarkets dominate the food supply chain in some countries and in some commodity lines, elsewhere it is the big transnational food processors such as Kraft, Nestle, Altria (formerly Philip Morris), Unilever, Procter and Gamble and Cargill who hold the power in the supply chain.

Growing evidence indicates, however, that the success of these companies is based on trading practices that are having serious consequences for suppliers, farmers, overseas workers, local shops and the environment.

The key issue is the concentration of power into the hands of a few powerful companies who can then dictate the terms and conditions to millions of small farmers and other small suppliers. This imbalance has been created over the last 30 years through food and agriculture policies and global trade agreements which promote trade liberalisation and the globalisation of the food economy. As farmers and plantation owners are squeezed to produce more and more at ever decreasing margins, its no wonder that farm workers, animals and the environment are exploited. It is also no wonder that we are suffering from a global farming crisis.

The Corporate Watch 'Food and Agriculture' project aims to highlight the many and varied effects of the corporate control of the food chain: from supermarkets causing the decline of town centres and high streets, to food corporations dictating global agriculture policy; from 'ethical trade' to the corporate co-option of fair trade, organic and 'local' produce.

Corporate Watch is committed to the transformation of the current damaging and highly exploitative food system, and to the creation of a pattern of food production based on the needs of local communities rather than exploitation and greed.

For more information about our analysis, see Corporate Watch's briefing 'A Rough Guide to the UK Farming Crisis' (2004) and 'What's Wrong with Supermarkets?'(Updated 2004)