The Guardian • Issue #2089


Brad’s bad day

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2089

You’ve probably heard about Brad Banduccio’s train-wreck interview on a recent episode of Four Corners. The Woolworths CEO put on a worker’s shirt so as to look relatable, did his interview in a store, as though he’d just finished a hard day’s stacking and packing, and then flounced off when he was told some of his comments had to stay on the record. After presumably being quietly screamed at by his communications team, he sulkily came back. He resigned shortly after the interview went to air. Brad’s salary was 15 times that of the Prime Minister, so he doesn’t have to worry about where he’ll get his t-shirts from now that he can’t use Woolies uniforms. The interview was a disgrace for Brad and will be studied by media types for years to come. The show was instructive for the rest of us.

Capitalism leads to monopoly, and Australia’s concentrated supermarket sector is a good example. Coles and Woolworths are a duopoly, with around 65 per cent of the grocery market. To the surprise of absolutely nobody who shops, ‘Colesworth’ as they are sometimes nicknamed, have used this power to exploit customers, making profits far in excess of inflation.

‘Colesworth’ is also a near ‘monopsony,’ meaning that they are almost the only buyer for a lot of suppliers. Stories of farmers having to pay bribes for shelf positions, or to get price rises through are common.

As the largest employers in the country, the duopoly are powerful and exploitative employers. Union members have walked off the job several times last years, because they want a living wage. After the Four Corners interview revealed that some Coles staff were made to work in 35 degree heat, staff were provided with “chilled necklaces.” During the pandemic, workers bore the brunt of public frustration, and had to fight to get adequate protective gear.

After these exposés, what’s usually suggested is more competition. Perhaps the ACCC should have more powers. Maybe the government should help more supermarkets move into Australia. Competition can lead to cheaper products, but it can just as easily lead to more creative ways of ripping people off, as anyone who’s ever tried to compare telephone plans or cereals will tell you. The point of competition for businesses in a capitalist society is to win that competition, not to make things better for suppliers or customers, and certainly not for workers. Companies are duty bound to put profits first – it’s a duty to their shareholders.

What’s needed is a people-centred system – one that is owned by the people, and one that works for people, not a system that exploits workers, consumers and small suppliers on behalf of investors. A people-centred system would mean that the people who supply our food would be obliged to help people, not to make the absolute maximum profit they can get away with. A system like this is possible. It’s called socialism.

The Four Corners episode on Coles and Woolworths is well worth a look to see what big companies will get away with when they can. Brad Banduccio has resigned, but there will be more scandals like this. It’s called capitalism. Let’s change it.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More