Are you buying food from a supermarket that has human suffering in its supply chain?

Supermarkets have been called upon to do more to address workers’ rights and hidden exploitation in order to end suffering in their food supply chains.

Global anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice has welcomed Oxfam’s recent report Workers’ Rights in Supermarket Supply Chains, which calls on companies to do more to acknowledge human rights concerns and act on them, as for the government to improve policies.

Sixteen supermarkets were assessed on workers’ rights and conditions in 2018 and again this year. The report found that over the year, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons were among stores that had “committed to doing far more than others to ensure respect for workers’ rights in their supply chains”.

Oxfam said in its report: “This shows that with corporate will, improvement is possible.”

However, they added that “the performance of half of the companies in Oxfam’s scorecard remains woeful”.

Aldi North, Lidl and Whole Foods were among the lowest scoring chains.

The report, part of the Behind the Barcodes campaign, calls on supermarkets to do three things to improve workers’ rights: adopt a human rights due diligence approach, prevent human rights harms in supply chains and achieve positive social impact. It says food supply chains are “rife with violations of human, labour and women’s rights” and that “forced labour and hidden suffering are unwanted ingredients in products ranging from tea and cocoa to fruit and vegetables, meat and seafood”.

In October 2019, the 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. However, Edeka Group, Lidl and Plus did not respond, and Costco declined to comment.

Aldi North’s response reads: “We are aware of the particular human rights challenges in the production of tea, including in the Assam state, as identified in the recent Oxfam report. We source tea from the region of Assam exclusively from producers who have ben certified by the Rainforest Alliance and Ethical Tea Partnership. We will continue to adjust our buying practices to address adverse impacts on human rights. Collaborating with our suppliers is an essential factor in achieving our sustainability goals, resolving problems and driving continuous improvement along our entire supply chains.”

Aldi also pledged to revise its policies and processes, to improve traceability and more.

Meanwhile Sainsbury’s said all of their tea sourcing from Assam is either Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade accredited. A statement reads: “We would need more information from Oxfam to investigate the tea estates highlighted in their report. We will be taking the Oxfam recommendations into account and work to understand where we can have the greatest impact for positive change.”

Tesco responded: “We support Oxfam’s clear framework. We are in the process of developing specific action plans to greater support progress on gender equality and living wages in key supply chains.”

And Morrisons said: “We have been engaged with Oxfam since the commencement of their Behind the Barcodes campaign and have already made progress in a number of areas.”

Supermarkets and their suppliers who want help protect their supply chains and operations from modern slavery and to improve conditions for workers are encouraged to find out about the services available from Slave-Free Alliance, Hope for Justice’s social enterprise working towards slave-free supply chains.