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7 Apr 2022

Hana Ivanhoe, Art Prapha, Oxfam

Oxfam briefing notes US supermarkets' progress and gaps on human rights in supply chains

Turning Point: A three year update on US supermarkets’ progress and pitfalls

Despite a heightened awareness and some measured instances of progress, United States (US) food retailers have continued to do too little, too slowly, to address the fundamental flaws of their business model. Since March 2020, workers, trade unions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders have been calling on major US supermarkets to take the opportunity to lead and change how our global food systems operate. Yet, the workers and small-scale farmers who produce the food those retailers sell are still suffering. Oxfam is observing how US retailers have returned profits back to their shareholders, while workers are losing trillions in income and facing new or increasingly exploitative working conditions such as precarious employment and restrictions on movement[...]

Now is not the time for business as usual. Many smart, leading companies know this, and they are pivoting from acknowledgement and acceptance of the risks to taking the high-road approach to address them. Oxfam is calling on major US retailers to:

• Adopt and implement HRDD (including human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) and grievance mechanisms), gender justice and workers’ rights policies that Oxfam has been calling for throughout the Behind the Barcodes campaign.

• Change procurement practices by incorporating their human rights and labor rights standards into their buying agreements and making the standards in their supplier codes of conduct mandatory.

• Prioritize gender justice in all human rights and social sustainability policies, procedures and practices, and commit to best practice standards by implementing the Women's Empowerment Principles.

• Embrace, not obstruct, the role of workers’ unions (including the right to organize) and worker advocates in representing the needs and voices of workers. US retailers should rely on insights and ideas that workers and their union representatives can bring to navigate complexity in workplaces and supply chains, rather than seeking to intimidate them with retaliatory measures in response to efforts to organize.

• Tie key performance indicators (KPIs), other relevant management systems, and executive and managerial compensation to the company’s performance on ESG criteria. Such measures are necessary to operationalize change principles into concrete behaviour and to shift corporate culture in the day-to-day operations of the business[...]