Ending Exploitation in Supermarket Supply Chains

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:09 pm on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 1:09 pm, 18th October 2018

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The debate around how we change the culture of our cheap clothing and cheap food is about making sure that our consumers are as well informed as they can be when they go out to do their shopping, whether to buy clothes or groceries. When the public see the cost behind the cheap price, many are moved to change how they shop and what they buy.

Across 12 common products including tea, orange juice and bananas, UK supermarkets receive almost 10 times more of the checkout price than the small-scale farmers and workers who produce them. The UK supermarkets’ market share rose from 41% in 1996 to nearly 53% in 2015 and, as the hon. Member for Bristol East demonstrated, this represents a race to the bottom in terms of what is paid to suppliers.

Oxfam and the Sustainable Seafood Alliance Indonesia examined the working conditions in prawn processing plants and exporters in Thailand and Indonesia respectively, which supply some of the world’s biggest supermarkets, including the six UK supermarkets. Workers described forced pregnancy tests, unsafe working conditions, poverty wages, strictly controlled bathroom and water breaks, and verbal abuse.

Supermarkets should lead the way ethically if positive change is to happen in our food supply chains. That is why Oxfam’s new supermarkets scorecard, which rates and ranks the most powerful UK supermarkets on the strength of their public policies and practices to address human rights and social sustainability, should be welcomed. These challenging benchmarks, based on robust and international standards, and widely recognised best practice on transparency, accountability and the treatment of workers, small-scale farmers and women in supply chains, will allow our consumers across the UK to make more informed choices. They will help to effect change in supermarkets’ practices and encourage them to address the suffering in their supply chains. As we have heard, when consumers have more information, that affects how they purchase and what they buy.