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30 Aug 2023

Spain: Workers' rights allegedly violated on farms incl. reports of forced labour, union busting & unsafe working conditions

In March 2023, Ethical Consumer released a report into labour rights abuses of workers, including migrant workers mainly from Morocco, Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, working in the agricultural sector in southern Spain. The report collates evidence from a range of sources, including interviews Ethical Consumer conducted with workers and union organisers, and reports from trade unions, academia and NGOs.

Overall, Ethical Consumer found evidence eight of nine fundamental workers' rights standards set by members of the Ethical Trading Initiative's Base Code are routinely violated on farms in the region supplying to at least one of the nine major UK supermarkets. Violations reported by workers cover:

  • Conditions of forced labour, including an inability to change jobs;
  • Lack of respect for freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, including intimidation and reprisals for union membership and union busting;
  • Unsafe and dehumanising working conditions, including exposure to heat stress and hazardous chemicals, inadequate and unsafe accommodation, and lack of access to medical care;
  • Wages below the minimum, deducted wages and fraudulent recruitment;
  • Excessive working hours and uncompensated overtime;
  • Discrimination, including recruitment and dismissals on the basis of race, unionisation and illness;
  • Failure to provide regular employment, including lack of permanent or fixed contracts; and
  • Physical and verbal abuse and intimidation, sexual assault and harassment.

The report makes several recommendations to business on how existing interventions can be improved or put in place to combat forced labour in supermarkets' supply chains. In particular a key recommendation is for supermarkets to support worker-driven social responsibility mechanisms to centre experiences of workers, ensure independent enforcement and define legally-binding processes for retailers to take an active role in remedying violations.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre asked the UK's largest nine supermarkets to respond to questions from Ethical Consumer as well as to describe their process for undertaking human rights due diligence in the region. The Ethical Trading Initiative and British Retail Consortium both provided responses to the report. Aldi South, Asda, Co-Op, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose supermarkets provided responses; Asda, Co-Op and Tesco did not provide answers to the questions but instead provided general statements.

Following the publication of Ethical Consumer's report, Ethical Consumer and several other NGOs met with the ETI and leading UK supermarkets to discuss the report's recommendations and next steps. All major UK supermarkets agreed to attending a follow-up meeting to discuss the report's recommendations in more detail and the practicalities of implementation.
Update from Ethical Consumer, August 2023

Company Responses

Waitrose (part of John Lewis Partnership) View Response
Morrisons View Response
Marks & Spencer View Response
Sainsbury's View Response
Co-operative Group View Response
Aldi Süd View Response

Timeline