This week I spoke in a debate which sought to shine a light on the inequality and suffering that exists in the global supermarket chain, which is nothing short of slavery.
Supermarkets have become hugely powerful which means that workers and small scale suppliers and farmers, across the globe, but perhaps particularly in developing countries where suppliers and workers are much more vulnerable to discriminatory policies, can face great suffering and unfairness due to this power imbalance.
Oxfam’s Ripe for Change report: Ending human suffering in supermarket supply chains, has presented new and alarming evidence of suffering faced by women and men behind the supermarket barcodes. The report reveals forced labour aboard fishing vessels in Southeast Asia, to poverty wages on Indian Tea Plantations, hunger faced by workers on South African Grape Farms, exploitative child labour and unpaid female labour.
Of the supply chains Oxfam looked at, none enabled people to earn enough for even a basic standard of living and, in some cases, like Indian Tea and Kenyan green beans , it was less than half of what they needed to get by. Women face routine discrimination, often providing most of the labour for the lowest wages. More than 9 out of 10 grape workers in South Africa and seafood processors in Thailand surveyed – most of whom were women – said they had not had enough to eat in the previous month.
This is an important debate and shows that firmer regulation to protect the rights of farmers and workers. We have the Modern Slavery Act but it is important that we continue to be committed to challenging all practices that puts people at risk of suffering within our supply chains by continuing to convene other nations against modern slavery at the UN for the last 2 years. This debate was also an important step in ensuring that we, as consumers, understand the exploitation in our food supply chain and can collectively exert pressure of our own so that supermarkets work to help stamp out this form of slavery.