Imagine you own a small family business with just one product that you may only sell to one customer for the next 12 months.
That same customer sets the price for your product and the terms. It informs you of the quality of your product and any penalties that apply to failures it deems to have been caused by you rather than during its own handling.
The bare facts are that you sell 100 per cent of your highly perishable commodity to this customer but all of that amounts to less than a thousandth of its supply. You are tiny.
Now, imagine that this, your omnipotent customer, makes a decision that unfairly costs you tens of thousands of dollars. What do you do?
You call or write a letter, hoping and praying that this customer does the right thing. But if it doesn’t?
This scenario is reality for Australian dairy farmers and it’s not healthy. It’s almost irrelevant whether the processors are doing the right thing at the moment or not because such an imbalance of power is irresistible. History proves it so.
The industry’s answer has been to develop a voluntary code, which does help to benchmark standards of behaviour but offers no independent umpire, no penalties and no redress for breaches.
The ACCC says that’s not sufficient protection for farmers with so little bargaining power. It wants a mandatory code with an independent umpire and penalties for breaches. I, for one, hope the regulator’s recommendations are implemented sooner rather than later.
Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud doesn’t seem averse, responding to a request for comment from Milk Maid Marian with: “I’m glad farmers’ concerns have been shown to be justified and will go through the ACCC’s report carefully.”.