Poor pay and punitive working conditions are common on farms and plantations that supply fresh fruit or tea to major UK supermarkets including Lidl, Aldi, Sainsbury???s, Tesco and Morrisons, according to new research published by a leading international charity.
The report from Oxfam claims that the supermarkets??? ???relentless??? drive to maximise profits is fuelling poverty and gender discrimination in their retail supply chains. Its research is based on in-depth interviews with workers in India and Brazil and a separate survey in five other countries.
Interviews with workers on 50 tea plantations in Assam allege that cholera and typhoid are rife because of poor access to toilets and safe drinking water. Half of those questioned receive government ration cards because they earn so little while female workers regularly clocked up 13 hours of hard labour a day.
Aldi, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury???s confirmed they source their own-brand tea from companies whose suppliers include the estates visited and Lidl was amongst other global supermarkets who source their own brand tea from the Assam region.
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 reported allergies and serious skin diseases as a result of using chemicals without adequate protection on grape, melon and mango farms that supply supermarkets including Lidl, Sainsbury???s, Tesco and, previously, Morrisons.
Rachel Wilshaw, Oxfam???s ethical trade manager, said: ???Despite some pockets of good practice, supermarkets??? relentless pursuit of profits continues to fuel poverty and human rights abuses in their supply chains. Supermarkets must do more to end exploitation, pay all their workers a living wage, ensure women get a fair deal and be more transparent about where they source their products.???
Oxfam also found that supermarkets are taking the lion???s share of the price paid by shoppers. Of the 79p paid by shoppers for a pack of 100g black Assam tea in the UK, supermarkets and tea brands receive 49p while workers receive just 3p.
The research was produced as part of Oxfam???s global Behind the Barcodes campaign, which aims to improve the lives of the millions of people around the world producing food for supermarkets who are trapped in poverty.
A separate survey of more than 500 workers on farms in the Philippines, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru and the US found that three-quarters of workers said that they were not paid enough to cover basic needs such as food and housing.
On behalf of UK supermarkets, Peter Andrews, the head of sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: ???Supermarkets in the UK are spearheading actions aimed at improving the lives of the millions of people across the globe who contribute to the retail supply chain. Our members are working hard to address existing injustices and continue to collaborate with NGOs, business groups and government on this vital issue.???
A spokesperson for Tesco said: ???This is the second year that Tesco has been assessed by Oxfam as doing most, of all major supermarkets globally, to ensure human rights are respected in food supply chains. But we know there is more to do and we are working with NGOs, trade unions and others to improve wages in the key produce, tea and clothing sectors.???
An Aldi spokesperson said: ???We continue to work hard to ensure every person working in our supply chain is treated fairly and has their human rights respected. We share the values behind Oxfam???s campaign and are in regular dialogue with them.???