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22 Jun 2021

Oxfam International

Oxfam report highlights supermarket and investor profits while women face harshest impacts of worker exploitation

Fishermen in a port in Bang Saray, Thailand split fish from a fresh catch.

Not in This together: How supermarkets became pandemic winners while women workers are losing out

[…]COVID-19 has cost global workers $3.7 trillion in lost income, and women and young workers have been hardest hit, as they are often found in the most insecure and lowest-paid jobs. Few places reveal this trend more clearly than supermarket supply chains.

In stark contrast to the escalating human misery brought by the pandemic, the supermarket sector has largely been the standout winner of the crisis[...] In fact, during the pandemic, publicly listed supermarkets distributed 98% of net profits to their shareholders via dividends and share buybacks. Meanwhile, workers and producers, especially women, across the globe – the people we call ‘essential’ or ‘frontline’ workers – have seen their incomes stagnate or even fall, while their rights continue to be violated[…]

Standout Winners and Huge Payouts

Oxfam’s analysis of the global supermarkets ranked in its Supermarket Scorecard[…] found that inequality is being exacerbated by COVID-19, with a huge human cost:

  • Like-for-like food sales, excluding fuel, across listed retailers9 grew by 11.1% on average during the second to fourth quarter of 2020, up from just 1.6% sales growth in the same period in 2019[…]
  • The selected listed food retailers have seen share values skyrocket. Their market capitalization increased by $101bn (between March and December 2020), compared to an increase of $75bn in 2019.
  • Between 2019 and 2020, total dividends distributed to shareholders increased by 123%, from about $10bn to $22.3bn[…]

Women Hit the Hardest

Oxfam’s new research highlights critical issues that supermarkets must address:

  • Violation of workers’ rights is evident across multiple food supply chains in different regions[…]
  • The extractive business model continues, as does the unfair distribution of value across supermarkets’ high-risk supply chains[…]
  • Women’s rights violations in supermarket supply chains are pervasive and systemic[…]

Supermarkets at a Crossroads

Oxfam believes that supermarkets[…] can choose to change their core business model to distribute more power and value to women in their supply chains[… and] propose that supermarkets take the following actions:

  • Urgently revisit relevant policies and practices to factor in the risks to workers and small-scale farmers from COVID-19 and the impact on their job and income security; supermarkets should show how their plans have been updated to reflect the specific needs of women workers in their supply chains.
  • Promptly address actual and potential human rights violations and respect workers’ rights, including by committing to achieving living wages in supply chains.
  • Urgently adopt a comprehensive gender policy and action plan to ensure that women’s rights are respected, in supermarkets’ own operations and supply chains.
  • Shift corporate practice on maximizing shareholder payouts and redirect spending towards long-term supply chain investment that ensures fair and decent working conditions for workers, farmers and women in their supply chains.

Governments also need to act. They must repeal laws that discriminate against women, promote laws to guarantee a living wage for workers, adopt mandatory human rights due diligence legislation and put a stop to excessive shareholder payouts[...]

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