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7 Apr 2022

Art Prapha, Oxfam

Opinion: US supermarkets must put principles into practice to address human rights abuses in supply chains

Turning Point: Time to put principles into practice in our food system

[...] Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, several key trends have emerged: widening wealth and gender inequalities, awakening US worker power, supply chain disruptions, technology adoption, investors’ demand for action on corporate responsibility, and legislative advances towards mandatory human rights due diligence (HRDD).

Amidst these great expectations, US supermarkets continued to lag behind UK and European counterparts on key policy areas; these include wages and well-being of people in the US and in global supply chains.

Oxfam reviewed relevant policies of five major US supermarkets--Albertsons Companies, Costco, Kroger, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon—and just published the results in Turning Point: A three-year update on US Supermarkets' progress and pitfalls. [It] focused [its] analysis on the top three issues that need urgent action: HRDD commitments, workers’ rights, and gender justice[...]

While US supermarkets made some progress, huge gaps remain. The analysis sends an urgent message: the current business model no longer serves the purpose of income generation and poverty reduction. In fact, it is having an opposite effect[...]

US food retailers must now shift from acknowledging the risks to actually addressing them. The new report offers several recommendations:

  • Adopt and implement the HRDD, gender justice and workers’ rights policies that Oxfam has been calling for through Behind the Barcodes.
  • “Walk the talk” and fundamentally change procurement practices. Incorporate human/labor rights standards into buying agreements, and stop placing pricing pressure on suppliers (which often leads to exploitative practices).
  • Tie key performance indicators and executive compensation to the company’s performance on ESG to implement change at the operational level.[1]
  • Prioritize gender justice in all human rights and social sustainability policies, procedures and practices. Commit to implementing the UN WEPs.
  • Embrace (rather than obstruct) the role of workers’ unions; protect the right to organize, and include worker advocates in representing the needs and voice of workers.
  • Increase supply chain transparency by disclosing the entire food supply chain, starting with first tier suppliers[...]