Ending Exploitation in Supermarket Supply Chains

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:21 pm on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 12:21 pm, 18th October 2018

I agree. That is very much about the complexity of the supply chain and the need for greater transparency.

If the supermarkets and the big food companies act, that could make a huge difference. Oxfam has found that all the major supermarkets in the UK—Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Lidl and Aldi—lack sufficient policies to protect the human rights of the people they rely on to produce our food. Oxfam’s “Behind the barcodes” scorecard provides supermarkets with a rating based on their transparency, accountability and treatment of workers, farmers and women. Aldi languishes at 1%, while Morrisons and Lidl are at 5%. The highest scoring is Tesco, at a still fairly unimpressive 23%. However, I was pleased that Tesco came along to the joint APPG meeting yesterday, and it seems very willing to try to improve that score.

There are key actions supermarkets can take, from conducting human rights due diligence in line with UN guiding principles on business and human rights to respecting living wage and income benchmarks in supplier negotiations. Needless to say, they should be paying their own staff the living wage too. Supermarkets need to end the fantasy of social audits, which are almost entirely for PR purposes. They need to engage constructively with trade unions throughout the supply chain that are working to ensure real living wages, root out bad practices and provide a route for whistleblowers—whether that is Unite and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union in the UK; Nautilus, the seafarers union, which has already been mentioned; or global framework agreements with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations.

The Government can also do more. With the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK became the first country in the world to require large businesses to report on the steps they are taking to eliminate slavery from their supply chains, but there have been only 13 convictions in the past 18 months. The Government must do more to ensure that all businesses are compliant with the law, with tough financial penalties if they are not. A new evidence briefing from the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and the University of Nottingham has found that just 19% of the agriculture sector is abiding by the terms of the Modern Slavery Act.