The news that a supermarket giant has been systematically and as a matter of policy paying suppliers late comes as no surprise. When we are a day late, paying our bills, our taxes or our fines, the machine springs into action and the bailiffs descend within weeks. But it turns out that huge corporations with teams of lawyers and accountants and therefore no excuse, can fail to pay suppliers for months, and in some cases years, simply to make their accounts look better and fool the stock market. The fact that the farmer who supplied the produce has to borrow money to survive until the supermarket pays up doesn’t play much part in their decision making. If the farmer goes under, someone else will supply them. There are even stories about supermarket giants reducing vast orders by half the day before delivery, leaving the producer with tons of perishable goods that nobody wants.
If I don’t pay my phone bill in time, then in very short order I am disconnected and my credit record will be adversely affected. To avoid errors most of us set up automatic payment. If I can do that, I am sure that a floor full of accountants, lawyers and business directors could institute something similar for their suppliers.
I am also sure that a government that wasn’t in the pocket of multinational corporations could enable punitive measures comparable in scale to those meted out to individuals who fail to pay their debts in a timely way. We might want to try to avoid paying more than we think we should for things, but are prevented from substantial evasion of our responsibilities by law. We should demand comparable rigour from government in tackling the monoliths of supermarkets and powerful monopolies.
In my own employment area, the theatre, there are large theatre chains whose policy of paying touring producers three months in arrears has caused huge financial problems to our employers, leaving many of them unwilling or unable to tour. Weekly costs of touring a play or musical are substantial and few can carry the costs of twelve weeks of shows without getting any of the box office.
Goliath has been having his own way for far too long and all the Davids out there have been powerless to do anything about it. We just need a weapon. We need protection from corporate greed, please, Mr. Cameron. Can you do something about it?