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13 Jun 2022


Oxfam study reveals exploitation of migrant workers in German supermarket supply chains; incl. company comments

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"No limits to exploitation – migrant workers in the supply chains of German supermarkets", June 2022 [German original published 1 March 2022]

For plantation owners and companies, migrant workers are cheaper than local workers. Moreover, it is often more difficult for migrants to stand up for their rights, as they not only lose their jobs but are also at risk of deportation. Therefore, they are most affected by human and labour rights violations such as violence and exploitation, especially women.

This research uses four case studies to trace the supply chains of large German supermarkets back to the farms and growing areas. Based on on-site research and interviews with workers, the situation of migrants in pineapple and banana farming in Costa Rica and in the wine and table grape sector in South Africa is examined.

The results of the case studies show: fruits sold in German supermarkets like Rewe, Aldi, Lidl and Edeka are grown under inhumane working conditions. Migrants in particular are exploited:

  • Many workers receive significantly less than the legally prescribed minimum wage - even on certified plantations.
  • Contrary to legal requirements, piecework of more than twelve hours is a reality for many workers.
  • The study also describes cases of trade union repression, sexual exploitation, inadequate protection against pesticides and other labour rights violations in Costa Rica and South Africa.

The German supermarkets - above all the four supermarket giants Aldi, Edeka, Lidl and Rewe - exert enormous price pressure on the farms in their supply chains through their market power. This makes them partly responsible for the conditions on the plantations. But not all supermarkets are willing to take responsibility. Therefore, the German government must lobby at the EU level for a strong legal regulation on human rights due diligence. It also needs to ambitiously implement the German Supply Chain Act, which was passed in 2021.

Note: Oxfam wrote to all the companies mentioned in this study in February 2022 to ask for their comments. Responses can be found on page 30 and following pages of the report.