Where will it lead?

The overall objective of the Race to the Top project is to help the key players in the UK supermarket sector enhance their social, environmental and ethical policies and performance over a five-year period. We will achieve this through a process of engagement between supermarkets and civil society organisations with interests in a variety of social, environment and ethical issues.

Supporting supermarket best practices

Supermarkets in the UK operate in a dynamic and increasingly global business environment. By competing to drive down the relative price of food, retailers have provided a 'consumer surplus' - freeing up funds for leisure and other expenditure. Within these constraints, some supermarkets have invested in support of greener and fairer food production, distribution and retailing.

But the public and farmers are sceptical about environmental and ethical claims from big business. Companies are reluctant to publicise their green and farmer-friendly credentials, fearing a consumer and investor backlash.

Price competition drowns out environmental and ethical messages, and good practice goes unrewarded.

Race to the Top offers UK supermarkets independent benchmarking, recognizing what companies have already achieved. The breadth of the alliance and IIED's brokering role also allows supermarkets a simplified and constructive relationship with NGOs and campaigning groups.

Supporting consumer choice

As consumers, we 'vote' in our supermarkets for certain kinds of farming and business when we buy food. We do so with incomplete information.

Race to the Top turns supermarkets into a powerful educational platform, showing the links between shopping choices, retailer policy and the health of our food system.

Supporting the farm economy

UK farming is facing its worst crisis in over 30 years. Farmers are seeing concentrated market power in the food chain, especially by supermarkets, as an explanation for their economic difficulties. Farmers in developing countries are also complaining that their livelihoods are threatened by unjust supply chain relationships for their exports.

However, there is a shortage of data on how fairly our supermarkets treat their suppliers.

Is there a commitment from supermarkets to local produce? Are contracts fair or one-sided, reflecting the difference in market power between the big retailers and farmers? What about farm workers? Are smaller farmers in developing countries and emerging economies getting a fair price?

Race to the Top provides comparative data on supermarkets' relationships with farming at home and abroad.

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Supporting responsible investment

The Race to the Top indicators are useful pointers for socially responsible investment funds, helping them to place their supermarket investments where genuine social and environmental improvements are taking place.

The information can also help the mainstream investment community evaluate the risk of supermarket investments, including risk to reputation from ethical or environmental liabilities.

Supporting government policy

Benchmarking is valuable for policy makers, as it provides a 'mouthpiece' to support policy goals and to track implementation of policies such as the Competition Commission Code of Conduct or the 'Five a Day' campaign for fruit and vegetable consumption.

The project can help government to understand and better define where government policy can support supermarket best practices and the limits to industry self-regulation and voluntary initiatives.

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