Whatever lip-service may be paid to sustainable consuming, by far most European consumers still do their weekly shop in the big supermarket chains. A handful of groups have carved up this lucrative market and grown so powerful as to be able to drive producers’ selling prices steadily down. This is not to say that the customer always wins out in these price wars. And what about the workers?
There are 19 million of them in Europe’s mass retail sector, many working in the mainly grocery store supermarkets looked at in this report. No doubting that the supermarket boom has given jobs to hundreds of thousands of Europeans, very many of them young people and women. This foothold in the working world, however, can now only be had by giving up some expectations about well-being at work, and even a home life. Contingent employment relationships have increased; flexible working arrangements – shift, evening and weekend work – are widespread; pay is stubbornly low; any thoughts of service or quality work are frustrated by productivity demands; and workers’ job discretion is wiped out by increasingly invasive management methods and technologies.