Wednesday, 22 April 2015

It is time other governments met their responsibilities

For me, the only TV news worth watching in the UK is Channel 4 News, with its real depth of analysis, general lack of dumbing down and occasional playfulness. However, if they have one fault it is that they still think that Britain runs an Empire and, as a result, responsible for all the world's ills.

This struck me on their recent exposé of the way that migrant agricultural workers in Spain were struggling in terrible conditions, poorly paid, with dangerous exposure to pesticide. It was an important piece of reporting for me, but what seemed crazy was the way that the vast majority of the emphasis was on the responsibility of the British supermarkets who were among the (many) EU buyers of the salads from this region.

Spain is part of the EU and subject to all the European legislation on working conditions. The obvious culprits here were the Spanish companies producing the salads and the Spanish politicians who don't crack down on this. But, no, over and over again the blame went on our rapacious supermarkets. They even had a Spanish politician pushing the blame our way.

Just imagine if the situation was reversed and C4 News was reporting on farms in East Anglia which supplied several EU countries. Would they be blaming French supermarkets for their maltreatment of workers? Of course not. They sensibly would be blaming the companies, the regulators and the government in the UK for not intervening. It really was bizarrely biassed.

I don't deny that supermarkets have some pretty unpleasant trading attitudes, squeezing all they can out of their suppliers - British milk producers can tell you all about that - but I've negotiated plenty of business to business contracts, both as a buyer, trying to reduce prices, and as a seller, trying to get as much as possible. You don't agree to a ridiculous price and as a result mistreat your workforce. You walk away.

However, this still misses the point. Whatever the supermarkets are doing, it is the Spanish companies and the Spanish authorities that must take the blame here, and it's a shame C4 News was too old fashioned, with its apologetic taint-of-Empire attitude, and too inward looking to realise this.

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