Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Aldi and Lidl are among supermarkets that are “increasingly squeezing the price they pay their suppliers” leaving people trapped in poverty, Oxfam has claimed.
The analysis found that across 12 common food products, including tea, orange juice and bananas UK supermarkets receive almost ten times more of the checkout price than the small-scale farmers and workers who produce them.
In a report, the charity says “millions” of people overseas producing food for sale on the UK market are therefore being trapped in poverty, with some facing “brutal” working conditions and others going hungry.
The charity said it surveyed hundreds of small-scale farmers and workers in supermarket supply chains across five countries and found that many people were struggling to feed themselves and their families or to earn a “basic standard of living.”
For example, in looking at grape workers in South Africa and seafood processors in Thailand it found over 90% said they hadn’t enough to eat.
Oxfam claimed there was a “striking gap” between the policies of British supermarkets now and what they needed to do to to ensure that human and labour rights are “fully respected” in their supply chains.
It also claimed to have found instances of female workers facing “routine” discrimination.
In analysis it carried out with the Sustainable Seafood Alliance, Oxfam claims that working conditions in prawn processing plants in Thailand and Indonesia - which supply some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets - were subject to forced pregnancy tests and strictly controlled bathroom and water breaks.
It said in one instance, Melati, an Indonesian factory worker, had to peel 600 prawns an hour - one every six seconds. Oxfam claims that when she couldn’t hit that target, she faced verbal abuse.
The charity has released the report to launch a new campaign called ‘Behind the Barcodes’ which aims to urge supermarkets to crack down on any supply chain abuses and increase transparency about where their food comes from.
Matthew Spencer, Director of Policy for Oxfam GB said: “Global businesses can help lift millions of people out of poverty, but the food industry currently rewards shareholder wealth over the work of millions of women and men with supermarkets ignoring the hidden suffering behind their food supply chains.
“When companies get serious about supporting decent work they can help transform lives in some of the poorest parts of the world.”
HuffPost UK contacted the major UK supermarkets mentioned in the report, many of whom referred us to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which has responded on behalf of its members.
The BRC said the issues raised were “complex.”
“Improving equality is at the heart of the British Retail Consortium’s Better Retail Better World campaign and our members have made a number of commitments to improve the livelihoods of people working in our supply chains and to increase the transparency of those efforts”, a spokesperson said.
“Indeed, as Oxfam’s research shows, the UK retail industry is one of the most progressive in this area globally.
“The Oxfam investigation demonstrates how complex these challenges of respecting human rights in supply chains are and we welcome the recommendations set out in this report.”
In addition Asda told HuffPost UK it was committed to empowering workers and creating positive change throughout its supply chains. Lidl also sent the following statement:
“At Lidl UK, we operate with a fundamental respect for the rights of the people we interact with, whether they be our own direct employees, contract workers or people employed throughout our supply chains. Across our business and in our supply chains, we are firmly opposed to all forms of labour exploitation, and are committed to driving improvements in labour standards.”
It went on to say that it welcomed Oxfam’s report and that it would “work collaboratively with both Oxfam and the wider industry, to drive further improvements throughout the supply chain.”
Finally, a spokesperson for Aldi said the Oxfam report related to Aldi South Group, which Aldi UK is part of, rather than Aldi UK specifically.
He said: “Aldi UK operates with honesty and integrity wherever it does business around the world. We respect human rights and treat the people in our supply chain who make, grow and supply our products fairly.
“We have comprehensive policies and processes in place, based on internationally recognised standards, which protect human rights for workers across our supply chain.”