ASDA, the TV advert says, would like to thank all those who have kept prices down. Really?
A certain buying power may, yes, bring economies of scale, but if you’re the size of the international Wal-Mart empire (which includes its UK Asda subsidiary) or the ubiquitous Tesco in the UK, then the pressure exerted on suppliers can very quickly become more insidious.
Why? Because somewhere in the world, there’s someone at the bottom of this particular food or production chain.
I’ve squirmed as I’ve endured the Asda ad all the way through a few times now. My reaction the second time was to hit the zapper and choose another channel, any other channel, but I felt I should watch to see if who actually was thanked. It wasn’t those end producers.
They don’t have to be at the other side of the world either. Some clothing manufacturers may have attracted worldwide censure for using child labour, but there seems something uncomfortably ironic that the UK’s milk producers – cows and those who farm them – claim to be losing money on sales to supermarket chains, one of which was originally called Associated Diaries; As-Da.
Such adverts are very seductive. Everyone wants to save money, but every penny the consumer appears to save has to be paid by someone else, usually the person who is poorest, weakest and right at the bottom of said food chain.
Ironically, it’s also those at the bottom of the production chain who are tempted to pay the least for their food and other necessities, so perpetuating the spiral of impoverishment.
Paying more is hard, especially when every penny counts, but it’s only by being prepared to pay more that consumers will take some of the pressure off those poorest producers.
(If managements and shareholders try to avoid passing on such improvements, then they are not immune to consumers moving elsewhere. Boycotts may be hard to get going, but when they do gain momentum, they can take years to stop.)
Wal-Mart Asda, like PC World, obviously think that such advertising works. It may do for now, but there will come a time when consumers’ thinking will reach the end of the argument and they’ll appreciate the plight of those at the end of the production chain.
When that happens, shopping habits may well change, and – for the Wal-Mart Asdas of this world – the ‘ching-ching’ in the back pockets of the characters in the TV ads and the ringing at the check-outs will not be heard quite so loudly.
© copyright 2007 Adam Christie,
All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission.
First published: February 13, 2007