Since the 2018 launch of Oxfam’s international Behind the Price campaign, most supermarkets have started to take human rights in their global food supply chains seriously. Oxfam has now published its fourth Supermarket Scorecard, which includes supermarkets from the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. For the first time, four supermarkets have scored 55% or above in our research analysis.
The Scorecards published since launch – covering 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022 – reveal an overall pattern that most companies have taken significant steps to improve working conditions of the women and men who produce our food.
However, labour rights violations remain systemic, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequality in global food supply chains. While supermarket owners and shareholders continue to make millions in profit, workers - especially women - have seen their incomes stagnate or even fall.
Change is possible: 3 key areas of improvement
Throughout the past four years, the campaign has reached millions of people across the world. Together with our supporters, we have called on powerful supermarkets to end human suffering in their supply chains, and to invest in their policies and practices to address workers’ rights and gender inequality in global supply chains. This has resulted in significant improvements across three key areas:
Undertaking human rights due diligence
By 2022, all supermarkets except PLUS have made commitments to uphold the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and report against them. This is in contrast to only three supermarkets doing so just four years ago.
Albert Heijn, Aldi North, Aldi South, Jumbo, Lidl and Tesco have published one or multiple “Human Rights Impact Assessments” (HRIAs) into high-risk commodities in specific countries. To complete such assessments, they engaged with labour unions and civil society to identify potential risks to labour rights.
While none of the supermarkets had published information of their suppliers before 2018, supply chain transparency has now become the norm rather than the exception.
Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Superunie (the buying group of PLUS) and Tesco have published all their ‘first-tier’ suppliers. Jumbo and Lidl have published names and addresses of all tiers in at least three high-risk supply chains.
Increased awareness of gender inequalities
While most supermarkets were ‘gender blind’ when we first assessed them in 2018, we have seen an increased awareness and now actual commitments by many supermarkets to tackle gender inequalities in their global supply chains.
Eight supermarkets now have gender policies or strategies in place: Albert Heijn, Aldi North, Aldi South, Jumbo, Lidl, Rewe, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco, which clearly tops the list.
Across the board, the 2022 scores reflect that companies are starting to tackle gender issues. However, supermarkets still need to prioritize their gender policies in order to really address gender inequality in their supply chains.
“It is encouraging to see that some supermarkets are taking notable steps to tackle human rights abuses in their supply chains. But to really protect workers and enable decent pay, we need to see concrete changes towards responsible buying practices.”
Supermarkets need to do much more
Supermarkets are struggling to address an underlying cause of exploitation: the inequality of power between their business and the workers and producers in their value chains. Here are three things that supermarkets still need to tackle:
Buying practices and living wages/income
Supermarkets have enormous buying power. Any harmful purchasing practices will often occur at the expense of labour rights in the supply chain.
Our 2018 campaign launch report highlighted how supermarkets are increasingly squeezing the amount they pay their suppliers, with less and less of the price paid at the checkout counter reaching the workers and farmers who produce the food. Four years on, all supermarkets are still failing to demonstrate what changes they have made to their buying practices, to align with their human rights commitments.
Human rights need to be embedded across a supermarket’s entire business model, including its buying department. To address low wages for example, the buying price should consider living wages and living income.
Negotiating power and trade union representation
In order to prevent human rights violations, workers, women and small-scale farmers need to be able to represent themselves in wage or price negotiations and working conditions.
A number of supermarkets have started to engage with trade unions in supplier countries during the past years. Yet only Tesco published how it has made significant efforts to remove barriers to freedom of association across its high-risk food supply chains.
Systemic and collective advocacy
Human rights violations are widespread across the food sector. While supermarkets have a responsibility to prevent, mitigate and remediate risks to the people who produce our food, they have to explicitly do more to tackle systemic human rights risks across the sector.
In the UK, the 2015 legislation to prevent modern slavery increased awareness amongst companies to address labour rights risks in their supply chains. In Germany, the Corporate Due Diligence in Supply Chains Act is soon coming into force. And in the Netherlands as well as the EU, mandatory due diligence legislations are currently being proposed.
Leading retailers that have shown progress over the past four years to adopt human rights due diligence, will be better positioned to comply with such new laws, whilst the laggards such as Edeka and PLUS will likely face challenges.
“Supermarkets must do more to respect the rights of workers, farmers and women who produce our food. The biggest barrier to ensuring better pay and working conditions is their ongoing drive to cut costs and negotiate the lowest possible prices with suppliers.”
The 2022 Scorecard shows progress on human rights across the food sector industry. Most supermarkets have published policies and commitments that have the potential to bring about actual improvement for food workers and farmers, and have taken the first steps in implementing them.
However, it is clear that supermarkets need to do much more to ensure human rights are respected and the women and men who produce our food get their fair share of the value they create. Oxfam will continue to monitor the progress and implementation of commitments made by these supermarkets, to ensure that they deliver on the commitments made during the campaign.
Does your supermarket food contain human suffering?
Since 2018, we have been investigating the biggest supermarkets’ policies to see whether they are protecting the people who produce our food, or leaving workers’ rights on the shelf. Overall, while some are doing better than others, all supermarkets lack sufficient policies and practices to properly protect the people who produce our food. Check out how your supermarket performs.