“they come over here, taking our jobs”, goes the familiar racist nonsense about ‘immigrants’. I wonder if any of the people using that argument refuse to buy cheap veggies from the supermarkets who employ immigrant workers in huge numbers at wages virtually no-one in the UK would work for.
This article in today’s Guardian contains a few fascinating bits of info from a report commisioned by DEFRA –
“The reports say that between 420,000 and 611,000 temporary workers are employed to harvest and pack produce in farm factories around Britain in the course of a year. Previous government estimates, based on a census in June 2002, said that 62,000 temporary workers were employed in the sector.”
“All the suppliers we interviewed said there had been a dramatic change from UK nationals to foreign workers in recent years and the reason was that they needed workers who were more desperate,”
“The significance of the study is that it shows the connection between concentration of retail power and deterioration of conditions for workers,”
So, the issue is one of supply and demand, it seems – people want cheap veg, the supermarkets want massive profits, a large number of people in the new EU countries want jobs, and are willing to work harder for less money than Brits, so a supply chain is established, in which the ones being ripped off are the immigrant workers and the farmers. The Supermarkets get their profits, the consumers get their cheap veg, but the workers get low wages and ever decreasing protection under law, and the farmers get lower and lower prices for their produce.
So what’s the answer? Well, as far as we can, avoiding supermarkets seems like plan. If you can, buy local, buy from the farm – that cuts out the middle man, and also takes the transport and related pollution figures out of the equation. If you can’t, try an organic box scheme. Some of the alternatives are pretty expensive, and will require some budget juggling, but buying less stuff is the best way to save money, rather than buying cheaper crappier versions of the stuff you were going to buy anyway. Buying food with no nutritional value doesn’t really help anyone, no matter how cheap it is.
We’ve got some changes to make round here to get our shopping habits to where they should be, but we’re on the way, step by step…by