There is a lot to hate about supermarkets: how they treat farmers, deceptive pricing, seductive processed foods, degrading working conditions, chemical smells, and just plain ugliness. I’ve detailed these points with links to research and a guide to alternatives in my argument to criminalize.
In Switzerland a supermarket duopoly dominate not only the food landscape, and sell gas, hardware, liquor, and banking.
Riding high on Swiss exceptionalism, the locals have great faith and trust in these two 30Billion corporations. The faith is rooted in a benevolent history, reinforced by saturation advertising and .
Both were legally structured as cooperative. Every Swiss resident is entitled to a free voting share of the Migros federation of businesses which is the largest employer in the country. No dividends are paid to shareholders, but 0.5% of the revenue is given to social and cultural projects. The founders’ philosophy is not legally binding on the company, but continue to provide a basis for faith:
Adèle and Gottlieb Duttweiler also wrote their “fifteen theses” (1950) which, without being legally binding, are an ethical heritage of Migros. It contains values and guidance such as a goal of “serving the community”, “The general principle that we profess is to place people at the center of the economy” and “The general interest will be placed higher than the interests of the Migros cooperatives”.
The other member of the duopoly, Coop, has a no less valorous past rooted in a history of consumer cooperatives and trade unions. It claims to focus on sustainability.
While Migros’ expansion has maintained the cooperative structure as a federation of coops, Coop has privatized its grain company and bank.
According to a critical organization, Sorgim, the leadership and decision-making of this piece of Swiss heritage has been derailed. It is no longer governed by direct democracy and a parliament.
Both companies are busy greenwashing their image while building empires through horizontal, vertical, and international acquisitions.
Unfortunately the pro-social legal structure
does not produce an ethical business
30B revenue (that’s in CHF, but not far off $ or €) is enough to control your image and silence dissent. But in many industries it wouldn’t be enough to impart such total power. The duopoly’s dominance of the Swiss foodscape means that producers and consumers are largely dependent on them. The destruction of alternatives preempts critique.
The cocktail of dominance with social legitimacy produces passivity and a lack of criticism.
The physical environment is anti-social. Nothing in the environment reflects the founders’ social values and principles. The experience isolates people rather than bringing them together socially.
The unpleasant environment produces an experience of shopping that most people consider to be a chore, rather than a social experience.
The deskilling of retail workers enforces the opacity and decontextualization of the products. By detaching products from their makers, the brand appropriates the customer’s affinity –and the loyalty it fosters– from maker to retailer.
Like all supermarkets, they enchant with cheapness and foster entitlement not to pay the real costs of food.
The focus on cheapness rather than quality or context destroys customers’ capacities for discernment.
And they encourage the imperialist diet, in which food from the whole world and all seasons is available all the time.
While the public face of the duopoly appears to be a polite competition, it actually functions to colonize the perceptualize landscape of the Swiss people who believe there is no alternative beyond these two.