Last week I saw a Woolworths employee dressed in a checked shirt and a fake Akubra hat dolling out olives, dips, cheese and biscuits to customers in return for a donation. All proceeds were going to the farmers as part of the drought effort. As I looked around, I saw many Woollies staff on checkouts decked out in the same new uniform.
This looks like a giant PR exercise to me. If Woollies were truly interested in helping our farmers they have had decades to work out how to pay them a fair price for their produce. Many studies show the Australian public is generally happy to pay a little more for items if it means keeping farming in Australia viable. It just looks shabby for the supermarkets to wait until the worst drought in living memory to look like they care. Dressing up casual staff in farmers shirts and Akubras to work on the check-out smells like spin to me. Where were those shirts made? China? How about supporting Australian manufacturing, Woolworths? In addition, why do you have to dress up urban staff in country and western garb to make a point? Getting customers to make a donation and getting the praise after decades of screwing the farmers feels cheap.
I do know that Woollies and Coles are making donations from their own profits. I know that Woollies have pledged the profits from a day’s fresh food. I know that Coles have said that they will match customers donations dollar for dollar. These are admirable things. My real beef is the need to turn the plight of the farmers into lavish PR spin (especially given the supermarkets have played their own part in this). Also almost no- one looks good in a checked shirt.
I’d love to see a nuanced rational approach to the drought. It’s entirely possible that climate change will make near permanent drought the new normal (until there’s a massive flood and a new PR campaign kicks in). Maybe there needs to be a national approach to keeping farmers on the land. Maybe I don’t have the answers. But I know for sure that sticking a disgruntled staff member in a checked shirt and knock-off Akubra isn’t the answer.