Agri-food supply contracts - is freedom of contract to the detriment of the public good?

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Multinational companies have taken over most of the food retail and food manufacturing. They purchase directly or through intermediaries, sometimes via complex global value chains, from farmers and growers. These contracts suffer from extreme power asymmetry. The minimal bargaining power of farmers and growers typically manifests as significantly one sided contracts for minimal reward. Farmers are burdened with confidentiality clauses, narrow product specifications and increasing additional duties, for example, regarding certification schemes, with limited to no support. They furthermore have to contend with high penalties in case of short delivery, leading to overproduction and food loss at source, and are typically subjected to numerous unilaterally imposed contract amendments at short notice. This is doing nothing to encourage farming as a business and vocation and to encourage investment in environmentally friendly and sustainable farming practices.
With the world’s population rising, the amount of food needed is increasing. Climate change is upsetting, if not destroying, established production patterns. Conflict, pandemics and animal diseases, are disrupting or destroying established food sources and supply lines. Food summits aim at developing a way ahead and increased use of technology and artificial intelligence is to provide solutions. Yet, there is no mention of the elephant in the room. Extreme power asymmetries in a competitive environment with shrinking resources are poor bedfellows for fair, equitable and sustainable food systems. It is time to remember that food systems are a public good and must be nurtured rather than exploited.
The paper therefore asks whether freedom of contract in agri-food supply contracts is detrimental to the public good. It examines whether the regulatory regime to date has made any meaningful impact and whether current reform attempts are fit for purpose. It aims at developing criteria capable of providing a functioning framework.
Period28 Jun 2023
Event titleSociety of Legal Scholars' Annual Conference 2023: Law and the Public Good
Event typeConference
LocationOxford, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • contract law
  • food supply chains
  • food security
  • sustainability
  • sustainability due diligence
  • Agri-food supply chains
  • farm to fork
  • unfair trading practices