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Woolworths: the farmer’s friend!

By Alan Matheson - posted Friday, 19 January 2007

On January 23, 2006, the profits of all Woolworth’s supermarkets will be handed over to the Country Women’s Association (CWA), to assist farmers affected by the drought, and for research into sustainable farming practices. As a result the CWA can expect about $3 million to land in their bank account by the end of the week.

Unless we all act now, according to the current Woolworth’s CEO, “the unique rural heritage of Australia will be under threat”. Woolworth’s, he said, recognises “the financial hardships faced by rural families and the longer term viability of the industry in a changing and unpredictable climate”.

Yet another sympathetic, supportive and generous gesture from the friendly folks at Woolworths!


For sheer front and audacity it’s a publicity stunt like no other: and how the CWA and Christian activists around the land fell for it is mind boggling.

According to the national CWA president, “this initiative, gives us hope now and for the future of Australian farming”. The good country folk of Maleny, currently boycotting Woolworths in their district, will be tearing up their CWA membership cards. Church leaders, failing to deliver low pressure systems on their national day of prayer for rain, will welcome Woolies profits as an alternative.

Corporations like Woolworths, rarely wake up one morning, and decide it would be a good idea to dump a day’s profits into the bank accounts of organisations like the CWA.

Last year was not a good year for the company and its not looking much better for 2007. True, it reported a billion dollar profit for 2005-6, it was able to pay its CEO about $12 million, and it expects a further 21 per cent growth in 2006. With Christmas sales delivering nearly $3 billion, it’s well on track to meet this forecast.

But there’s a darker side to this retailing predator, which sheds some light on why, at this time of the year, Woolworths is prepared to overlook a day’s profit.

It’s farmers themselves who’ve been at the forefront of a continuing attack on Woolworths. It’s farmers, and even Federal Government ministers, who see Woolies as a major threat to “the unique rural heritage of Australia”. The $3 million the CWA will pick up is peanuts compared to what is being alleged by farmers, and what the courts are saying about the friendly folks at Woolworths.


In 2005, the federal Agriculture minister warned that companies like Woolworths, were driving Australian farmers out of business (ABC July 5, 2005). A Carnarvon grape and mango producer said that the Woolworths of this world, “will bend over backwards to increase profits … and the easiest option is to import cheap produce” (ABC August 4, 2005). Egg producers were being driven to the wall as Woolworths sold “generic eggs for 80 cents less than the local product” (ABC December 16, 2005).

At the beginning of 2006 it was Australian fruit growers who lost out as Woolworths sourced their Home Brand lines from China and South Africa (ABC January 25, 2006). Then came news that Woolworths was “fined almost $9 million after being found guilty of fixing the price of bread and abusing market power”.

Growers complained of the “concentration of retail power”, that led to “grower returns getting less and less” (ABC February 1, 2006).

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About the Author

Alan Matheson is a retired Churches of Christ minister who worked in a migration centre in Melbourne, then the human rights program of the World Council of Churches, before returning to take responsibility for the international program of the ACTU.

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