Oxfam reveals poverty pay, harsh working conditions & gender discrimination in intl. supermarkets' food supply chains; Includes company responses

Oxfam has released new research, which included in-depth interviews with workers in India and Brazil and a survey of workers in five other countries, revealing widespread labour rights allegations - including poverty pay, harsh working conditions, and gender discrimination - in food production linked to international supermarket supply chains as part of its Behind the Barcodes campaign.

Interviews with workers on 50 tea plantations in Assam revealed that cholera and typhoid are prevalent because workers lack access to toilets and safe drinking water. Half the workers questioned receive ration cards from the government because wages are so low and women workers, who are often in the lowest paid most labour-intensive jobs, regularly clocked up 13 hours of back breaking work a day. On fruit farms in North East Brazil, women with children said they were forced to rely on relatives or government support to feed their families outside the harvest season. Workers also reported developing allergies and serious skin diseases as a result of using pesticides and other chemicals without adequate protection. 

In October 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the supermarkets named in the reports to respond to the allegations and Oxfam's recommendations. Albertsons, Aldi North, Aldi South, Kroger, Morrisons, REWE Group, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Walmart, and Whole Foods Market responded and their responses are included below.

Edeka Group, Lidl and Plus did not respond. Costco declined to comment.

Albert Heijn (a subsidiary of Ahold Delhaize) and Jumbo were named by Oxfam as having made significant and meaningful commitments on workers’ rights. Jumbo sent us documents (in Dutch) outlining its due diligence process, linked below. 

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Company response
14 October 2019

REWE Group's response

Author: REWE Group

... [W]e are also in close and constructive contact with OXFAM...

...The certification of our suppliers contributes to ecological and social improvements in the growing countries and to increased transparency in the supply chain, although we do not want to rest on our laurels. Our REWE Group Guideline for Tea will be published shortly...

...The Oxfam report neither establishes a chronological classification nor a concrete reference with which we could pursue the generally formulated accusations in a targeted manner. At this point, we would like to assure you that we will not tolerate proven violations of national laws, ILO standards and minimum wages at suppliers and will sanction them if they are proven - even to the point of discontinuation...

Compared to the previous Oxfam study from 2018, REWE Group has already improved its results in three out of four categories. This alone clearly shows that REWE Group is making great efforts to identify and remedy any legal infringements and/or grievances along the private label supply chains...

Download the full document here

Company non-response
12 October 2019

Costco did not respond

Company non-response
12 October 2019

Edeka Group did not respond

Company non-response
12 October 2019

Lidl did not respond

Company non-response
12 October 2019

Plus did not respond

Company non-response
12 October 2019

Walmart did not respond

Report
10 October 2019

India: Tea workers in Assam 'systematically denied' right to living wage & decent working conditions, report finds

Author: Oxfam

"Addressing the Human Cost of Assam Tea: An agenda for change to respect, protect and fulfill human rights on Assam tea plantations", 10 October 2019

Workers on tea plantations in the Assam region of India are systematically denied their rights to a living wage and decent working and living conditions...[This] is starkly illustrated by...[the] finding that 50% of the households that researchers visited on behalf of Oxfam owned ‘below poverty line’ ration cards issued by the Government of Assam...

...Tea workers also struggle to get timely and good quality healthcare, access clean drinking water, and provide their children with a decent education.Women bear the heaviest burden...as they are concentrated in the lowest paid plucking roles and also shoulder most of the unpaid domestic care work.

Oxfam’s new research shows that the solutions lie in a fairer sharing of the end consumer price of tea, stronger gender policies and a review of plantation labour laws to ensure that women and men in Assam can lead dignified lives.

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Article
10 October 2019

Oxfam finds poor wages & abuse persist in the global food sector, while major supermarkets continue to benefit

Author: Oxfam

"Poverty pay and abuse of workers on farms and plantations linked to UK supermarkets", 10 October 2019 

Poor pay and harsh working conditions are common on farms and plantations that supply tea or fruit to global supermarkets including Lidl, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons…. [R]esearch…highlights how the supermarkets’ relentless drive to cut costs…is fuelling poverty, abuse and gender discrimination in their supply chains.

Interviews with workers…in Assam revealed that cholera and typhoid are prevalent…, workers receive [government] ration cards…and women…regularly clocked up 13 hours of back breaking work [daily]. Aldi, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s confirmed that they source…from companies whose suppliers include the estates visited…Lidl source tea from the Assam region. Walmart neither denied or confirmed links.

On fruit farms in North East Brazil, women with children…were forced to rely on relatives or the government for support… … [and reportedly suffer] allergies and serious skin diseases… [after] using pesticides… Lidl and Sainsbury’s, and previously Tesco and Morrisons, [were supplied by these farms]. Walmart neither denied or confirmed links. Oxfam’s Ethical Trade Manager stated: “…relentless pursuit of profits continues to fuel poverty and…abuses. Supermarkets must…end exploitation, pay…a living wage, ensure women get a fair deal and be more transparent…”.

Oxfam also found that [whilst] supermarkets are taking the largest share of the price paid by shoppers…, a survey in the Philippines, Ecuador, Costa Rice, Peru and the US…adds to…evidence that poor wages and abuse are rife across the food sector.

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Report
10 October 2019

Oxfam report highlights human, labour & women's rights violations in supermarket supply chains

Author: Oxfam

"Workers’ Rights in Supermarkets Supply Chains: New evidence on the need for action", 10 October 2019

This Oxfam [report]...presents compelling new evidence that our food supply chains are rife with violations of Human, Labour and Women’s Rights. The paper summarises new research commissioned for Oxfam, which shows the depth and scale of human suffering in food production in India and Brazil linked to international supermarket supply chains.

The briefing note identifies company laggards on workers’ rights, makes clear that progress is possible and where it is being made, and puts forward a framework for action as important steps for supermarkets to end human suffering in their supply chain.

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