Close on the heels of the opposition raised by RSS affiliated groups like Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), over 100 civil society groups, including Left leaning trade unions, farmer organizations and trade associations have opposed Walmart's $16 billion takeover bid for e-commerce firm Flipkart.
In an open statement issued in Delhi, the groups alleged that the concentration of economic power over the e-commerce sector between two US MNCs, Amazon and Walmart (post Flipkart takeover) constitutes a potential duopoly in India, rendering them too powerful to be meaningfully regulated.
The statement calls for a national debate involving all the affected constituencies, and an informed democratic decision based on it. The groups intend to submit the statement to the Government and Members of Parliament. Further plans include a national convention on the issue and taking the campaign on the rise of foreign corporate control over key sectors of the economy across the country.
Sharing their concerns at a press conference on Monday, Mohan Gurnani, president of the Chamber of Associations of Maharashtra Industry and Trade (CAMIT) asserted that 'the worst affected will be small brick-and-mortar retail stores accounting for over 90 percent of the Indian retail sector, SME manufacturers, small delivery companies and suppliers of goods including farmers whose margins will be ruthlessly squeezed.
Shyam Bihari Misra, President, Bhartiya Udyog Vyapar Mandal, said that the government should consult traders and first frame a policy for domestic e-commerce pending which the Walmart-Flipkart deal should be shelved. It is also not in line with the government's Make in India initiative. Challenging the assertion that consumers in India will gain with the availability of cheap imported goods, noted economist Prabhat Patnaik argued that consumers are not a distinct identity from local producers who will be displaced by cheaper imports.
"With the control of the Indian market by two multinational retail giants, we will see two distinct processes of de-industrialisation; one of local traders and the other of local producers," he said.
According to Prabir Purkayastha, president of the Free Software Movement of India (FSMI), e-commerce companies have integrated online and offline strategies and, hence allowing 100 per cent FDI in e-retail in India is nothing but a violation and a back-door entry of foreign players into multi-brand retail. Parminder Singh from IT for Change said that e-commerce firms such as Amazon and now Walmart seek to own and control key data of all economic activity across sectors resulting in unassailable market power."
National policy or regulatory remits over them would then be as ineffective as they currently are over Google or Facebook. Manufacturers, suppliers and traders, producers and service providers, all become enslaved to digitally controlled platforms, working as per their parameters, but denied any rights or just returns," he said.
This point was further elaborated by Amitava Guha from the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) who said that Walmart has a long history of being anti trade unions, paying poverty wages and disregarding social security laws. Guha also said that in e-commerce, work will be outsourced to couriers and other service providers, making it a long stretch to prove that they are workers. "Further, even if Walmart and Amazon employ a few thousand more, they are unlikely to neutralise the massive employment loss associated with the collapse of both the formal and informal retail sector."
The signatories of the open statement include Bhartiya Udyog Vyapar Mandal, All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), peasant organisations such as All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) and Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers movement (ICCFM), All India Peoples Science Network, National Alliance of Peoples Movements, National Fishworkers Forum, Forum against FTAs and National Hawker Federation.