Research briefing: Super Market Failure

Low wages, high pay disparities and unfair trade – is this what we want from food retail?  A research briefing from Sustain's sustainable farming campaign.


We like to think that British values include a sense of fair play; however our food system is often deeply unfair. Low wages and high pay disparities are the norm, meaning that millions of people are locked into poverty.

Meanwhile, unfair trading practices persist, meaning insecure livelihoods for farmers and suppliers. Against this backdrop we also have major changes in the retail sector including a proposed merger of Asda and Sainsbury’s, aggressive new players such as Amazon and rapidly growing levels of online shopping.

We set out to examine some of the causes of unfairness in our food system, looking at the pay and practices of the UK’s leading supermarkets. Using survey responses, independent studies  and data sources, Sustain assessed how the UK’s 13 top supermarkets (by turnover) play fair, using three key indicators:

  • Does the supermarket pay at least the real Living Wage for all employees and agency workers?
  • What is the ratio between the lower paid workers and the highest paid executives?
  • What is the supermarkets’ approach to grocery market regulation, which was designed to cultivate a fair and level playing field?
  • This briefing summarises the findings and makes recommendations for action.

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14/03/2019
Food and Farming Policy

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