May 9, 2017
The power asymmetryies that exists between major supermarket chains and suppliers, in Australia and abroad, have has been analysed largely through an economic-legal lens, focussed predominantly on consumer prices. This article takes a wider stance, considering the economic and then the social discourses that arise in response to the supermarket-supplier relationship, before examining how such discourses shape regulatory responses. We find that the two are not, as they appear on first blush, disconnected or in conflict. Rather, as with many socio-economic interactions, they are connected and interdependent. Applying a problematisation analysis, we interrogate the underlying assumptions and question the ways in which the issues relating to the imbalance in bargaining power between major supermarkets and suppliers are framed in mainstream policy debates, and then consider the implications. On our analysis, the problem that this imbalance is seen to pose has dimensions of both competition and fairness, creating challenges that require a range of responses. It is thus a problem that can be tackled by appealing to the traditional platforms of both the left and right of politics. A dual discourse also facilitates effective political risk management. While a neoliberal approach allows government to be seen as promoting competition to maximise efficiencies and consumer welfare, tough measures on socially unacceptable behaviour enables government to align with important social-cultural values.
Caron Beaton-Wells and Jo Paul, 'Problematising Supermarket-Supplier Relations: Dual Discourses of Competition and Fairness' (2017) Griffiths Law Review (forthcoming)