The Behind the Price campaign exposes the root causes behind human suffering in food supply chains and has mobilized the power of people around the world to help end it, starting with a focus on the role of supermarkets. Since our flagship report ‘Ripe for Change’, which launched the global campaign in 2018, we have targeted some of the largest supermarkets across Europe and North America, that have extensive operations throughout the world.
Inequality is rampant across the global economy, and the agro-food sector is no exception. At the top, big supermarkets and other corporate food giants dominate global food markets, allowing them to squeeze value from their vast supply chains across the globe. In most developed countries, and increasingly in developing countries too, just a handful of supermarket giants dominate food sales.
Women are hit the hardest
As these supermarkets exercise more power over our food supply, only a small portion of the money we pay for our food actually reaches hard-working farmers, fisherfolk and workers at the start of the chain - in many cases, less than 10 percent. This is a global food industry worth trillions of dollars: there is no excuse for anyone producing our food to go without enough to eat themselves.
And women are hit the hardest. They do most of the lowest paid and least secure jobs, and face discrimination over pay and working conditions with little recognition of their rights.
The burden of injustice in the food industry: 5 shocking numbers
Between 2019 and 2020, total dividends distributed to supermarket shareholders increased by 123%, from about $10bn to $22.3bn. While almost none has made significant investment to support food workers and farmers in global supply chains.
Less than 1% of shareholder payouts in 2020 could close the gap between current wages and a living wage for workers in Brazil’s largest coffee producing state.
During the pandemic, publicly listed supermarkets distributed 98% of net profits to their shareholders. Meanwhile, workers and producers across the globe, especially women, have seen their incomes stagnate or even fall, while their rights continue to be violated.
COVID-19 has cost global workers $3.7 trillion in lost income, and women and young workers have been hardest hit; they are often found in the most insecure and lowest-paid jobs. Few places reveal this trend more clearly than supermarket supply chains.
It would take a woman processing shrimp at a typical plant in Thailand more than 5,700 years to earn what a chief executive at a top US supermarket earns in a year.
In an era of gross global inequality and escalating climate change, this business model is increasingly unsustainable. And we know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Governments, food companies, small-scale farmers and workers, and citizens around the world can all help to rebalance power in food supply chains and ensure they more fairly reward those producing our food. It would make a difference to millions of lives.
The pressure of the campaign, with the voices of Oxfam supporters and supermarket customers, has created a “race to the top” amongst our target supermarkets. Progress is being made. Change is possible, as shown in our scorecard assessments throughout the past four years.
But supermarkets are still struggling to address an underlying cause of exploitation in their value chains: the inequality of power between their business and those who produce our food. This is ever present during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has revealed that supermarkets have put profits and shareholders before the safety and well-being of workers and small-scale farmers in their supply chains.
As outlined in our latest campaign report ‘Not in this Together’, Oxfam believes that supermarkets are at a crossroads, where they can choose to change their core business model to distribute more power and value to those who produce our food in their supply chains. We firmly believe that within our lifetime, no one will have to live in extreme poverty. A better deal for the women and men producing our food will ensure that day arrives all the sooner.