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Accounting, performance measurement and fairness in UK fresh produce supply networks

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Food systems in Europe, North America and Australasia are dominated by a small number of supermarkets supplying over 70% of the food consumers buy, and the model is being translated into other markets such as the Middle East and Asia. Relationships between suppliers and supermarkets are contentious in all such systems. Here, interviews were carried out with representatives of three major grower-packers supplying between them around 50% of the UK’s fresh produce. We were interested in three questions, namely: how performance measurement, risk management and communication of accounting information are used by intermediaries in an allegedly unfair commercial environment; the extent to which the accounting and control practices observed support perceptions that suppliers in supermarket-dominated supply networks are treated unfairly; and what accounting and control practices would be indicative of fair commercial relationships? Researchers in the cross-disciplinary literature use John Rawls’ theories of ‘justice as fairness’ in this context. Recent developments in business ethics and philosophy apply his theories to questions of relational power and fairness in commercial relationships. We follow these writers to understand where, if at all, the perceived unfairness of these food systems lies. Our empirical work and analysis can make an initial contribution from the discipline to this debate, because it has the potential to show how accounting and control practices are at the centre of the fragilities of the wider system, and of possible remedies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Early online date6 Jan 2018
Publication statusEarly online - 6 Jan 2018


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