A wave of disapproval has been growing, and SME action groups, newspapers and government ministers are all now pushing for a fair resolution.
A campaign initiated by the UK's Telegraph newspaper, and supported by The Forum of Private Business, has drawn attention to the issues, and it seems that change may finally be on the horizon.
Small businesses are faced with a choice when dealing with regular late payments. They can either take a stand, and endanger their business by souring relations with customers, or back down and accept being exploited.
Some business owners have taken the approach of sacrificing turnover but, on the whole, there is little small companies can do address the problem.
What Steps are Being Taken?
The government has been criticised for inaction in this area, but business minister Michael Fallon has started talking tough against businesses accused of making late payments. The minister has sent a letter to every company in the FTSE 350, proposing a voluntary agreement that encourages companies to commit to paying suppliers quickly.
He has promised to name those who refuse to sign up to the agreement, which is likely to generate negative press for them at a time when public anger towards larger companies is growing amid revelations of widespread tax evasion tactics.
Some say that a voluntary agreement is insufficient, and regulation needs to be put into place. One choice SMEs have is to act on a European Union directive that gives them the right to add appropriate interest to unpaid debts, without having to give notice. It also gives the right to make claims for money spent recovering unpaid debts.
While this gives the underdog businesses some teeth, there's little doubt that acting on these powers would simply cause resentment to grow on both sides of the relationship.
Further action, or regulation is likely to be required, because SMEs are ultimately left helpless. They could use the EU directive, but would almost certainly compromise their business by doing so. These businesses are caught in a catch-22 situation, as they cannot afford to bite the hand that feeds them.
In the meantime, SMEs will be left to hope that the public naming of businesses that are unwilling to commit to paying suppliers on time will have an impact. No company will want to be associated with such a negative story, so the announcement may mark a changing of the tides.