Regulating Australia's retail grocery sector

Goals, actors and techniques

Summary

Funded by an ARC Discovery Grant (DP150100504), this project investigates regulation by and of the major Australian supermarket chains.

Researchers

  • Christopher Arup, Department of Business Law and Taxation, Monash University
  • Caron Beaton-Wells, Melbourne Business School and Melbourne Law School
  • Jane Dixon, Centre for Epidemiology and Public Health Australian National University
  • David Merrett, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Melbourne
  • Jo Paul-Taylor, Melbourne Law School

Project background and aims

The major supermarket chains have a substantial economic and social impact on consumers, businesses, workers and communities and are crucial to Australia’s economic productivity and sustainability. This project aimed to evaluate agencies, modes and rubrics of supermarket regulation.

Further particulars of the project are provided at the Project website.

Methodology

The project pursues an interdisciplinary and empirical methodology, combining legal studies with regulatory studies and economic sociology.

Output

The project found that the regulatory governance paradigm of corporate-led, market-based, regulation was not adequate to the task of safeguarding crucial stakeholder and public interests such as the sustainability of farm enterprises, worker livelihoods, urban amenities and public health.  Often, conventional contract, competition and consumer law did not provide the necessary correction, yielding minimal change in the structure of the sector and the exercise of buyer power. Yet the addition of civil society co-regulation, specifically those which extol consumer-citizen activism and advocate for regulatory pluralism, makes limited gains. At times, government regulation is required, not only to mandate co-regulation, but to set minimum standards. The project explores reasons why the prevailing policy paradigm proved resistant to this regulation and ways that this regulation can be improved and strengthened. The project demonstrates the value of interdisciplinary empirical case studies and in particular the incorporation of perspectives from regulatory studies and economic sociology.

Publications

  • C Arup, J Dixon and J Paul-Taylor, ‘The Essential Ingredients of Food Regulatory Governance’, Griffith Law Review 29, 2020, latest articles, at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10383441.2020.1804659
  • C Arup, ‘Labour Law Liberalisation and Regulatory Arbitrage’, Australian Journal of Labour Law 33: 183-208, 2020.
  • C Beaton-Wells, ‘Antitrust’s Neglected Question: Who is the “Consumer”?’, The Antitrust Bulletin 65: 173-193, 2020.
  • C Arup, ‘Enforcing Labour Standards in the Supermarket Food Supply Chain’, Australian Journal of Labour Law 32: 103-122, 2019.
  • C Arup and J Paul-Taylor, ‘Planning the ACT Supermarket Competition Policy’, Local Government Law Journal 22: 125-147, 2018.
  • C Arup, C Beaton-Wells and J Paul-Taylor, ‘Regulating Supermarkets: The Competition for Space’, University of New South Wales Law Journal 40: 1035-1071, 2017.
  • C Beaton-Wells and J Paul-Taylor, A Code of Conduct for Supermarket-Supplier Relations: Has It Worked?’, Australian Business Law Review 46: 6-31, 2018.
  • C Beaton-Wells and J Paul-Taylor, ‘Problematising Supermarket-Supplier Relations: Dual Perspectives of Competition and Fairness’, Griffith Law Review 26: 28-64, 2017.