Small business and supply chains
‘You can’t bite the hand that feeds you’: Contracts between SME suppliers and the large supermarkets
This article examines the implications of the contracts between the four main South African supermarkets and their SME suppliers. Supermarkets’ procurement practices, in particular their practice of charging suppliers a substantial ‘rebate commission’ as well as requiring suppliers to comply with private, rather than public, production and health standards, have a significant impact on the ability of new SME suppliers to enter the market and to create jobs. This has important policy implications.
The reasons for the closure of fairly well-established informal enterprises are varied. Between 2010 and 2015, in the Cape Flats township of Delft South, a key factor was the failure to respond adequately to the more entrepreneurial business model of foreign traders and the strict enforcement of unfavourable liquor trading policies. Still, household misfortunes and broader socio-cultural dynamics also played crucial roles. A richer understanding of why enterprises shut down should inform policy to foster the sustainability of informal enterprises.
Over the past 15 years Government has promoted cooperatives at national and provincial levels with the aim of enabling small producers to tap into mainstream economic activities. Tens of thousands of cooperatives were formed in processes with officials’ performance appraisals based on the number of new cooperatives being formed. A 2014 study in the Free State indicates a very low survival rate of cooperatives and little evidence of job creation. This accords with earlier findings of an EU-funded study at the national level.
This article examines the contrasting business models in the spaza shop sector, and compares foreign-run businesses with South African businesses. We argue that foreign shop keepers are more successful than South Africans because of the strength of their social networks, which provide them with access to labour and capital and enable collective purchasing and market domination. The article argues for a two-pronged policy that would formalise larger shops whilst permitting and encouraging informal micro and survivalist businesses.
Marginalised businesses provide livelihood and income opportunities for a large section of the population. However, these businesses are not able to capture growth opportunities because of several constraints; they continue to operate on the periphery of the mainstream economy. Yet they could become a major source of employment growth. Efforts to unlock this potential must concentrate on exploiting value chains and making government policy more responsive to the unique needs and challenges of marginalised businesses.
How structural inequality limits employment and self-employment in poor areas (or: Why South Africa’s informal sector is so small)
Given South Africa’s high levels of unemployment, the relatively small size of the micro-enterprise sector is a conundrum. This article argues that structural inequality is the reason for this – in particular, inequality in the structure of the economy, the legacies of spatial inequality and the continued inequalities in human development. Their combined effect is to limit the scope for poor people to escape poverty via self-employment. This explains the limited extent and small range of informal employment.