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5 Apr 2022

Radhika Sarin, Oxfam

Opinion: Oxfam pushed UK supermarkets to improve on human rights but gaps remain

A race to the top: How we pushed supermarkets to take human rights seriously

[...] The pressure of the [Behind the Barcodes] campaign, with Oxfam supporters and supermarket customers calling for change has created a “race to the top” among UK supermarkets to improve their human rights rating.  All five supermarkets we rated in 2018 – Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – have improved their scores.

Initial laggards Aldi and Lidl, the focus of Oxfam campaigns in previous years, have now taken significant steps to adopt a human rights approach and published new policies and commitments. Both companies, for instance, have published several deep dives known as human rights impacts assessments (HRIA) into supply chains rife with risk, such as avocados from Peru and tea from Kenya, in order to understand, identify and address human rights impacts on people[...]

The 2022 scores also reflect a radical shift in supply chain transparency. In 2018, no supermarket published information about its food suppliers; today, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco publish all of their “tier one” (direct) suppliers, an important first step in supply chain transparency as these major supermarkets have thousands of business relationships even at this first level[...]


If supermarkets are serious about human rights, they need to ensure a decent wage for every worker in their supply chain. They should make living wages a non-negotiable cost they are ready to bear when negotiating on prices with suppliers. It is through such progressive purchasing practices that businesses will have the most profound impact on workers[...]

However, there is still much to do: four years on, all supermarkets are still largely failing to demonstrate changes in buying practices that would deliver on their human rights commitments. The handful of good examples so far urgently need to be expanded to ambitious action on purchasing across all high-risk food supply chains. We need supermarkets to switch to responsible buying practices and governments to strengthen legislation that protects workers, including on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence[...]