Ending Exploitation in Supermarket Supply Chains

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 1:20 pm, 18th October 2018

I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee, and to colleagues for their excellent speeches. What we have lost in quality we have certainly gained in quantity—or the other way round. [Interruption.] Or maybe not.

Human trafficking and modern slavery are thriving throughout our international economy, from our grapes and our coffee beans to the tuna we put on our sandwiches. The cost to human life and basic human rights is truly astonishing. Only 12% of Thai fishermen have said that they have fair working conditions, and an estimated 50% of Thai fishermen are known to have been trafficked. As we know, this is not just happening overseas. In Cornwall, in Kent and on the Cambrian coast in Wales, our car washes, our nail bars, our construction sites and the restaurants that we visit are all hotspots for the evil traffickers.

Oxfam’s recent report, “Ripe for change: ending human suffering in supermarket supply chains”, highlights the scale of slavery throughout the food and goods industry. In the UK, the grocery sector is one of the most diverse and sophisticated in the world, worth nearly £185 billion a year. Supermarkets have delivered low prices and year-round choice to many consumers in the UK, but they have done so by using their huge buying power to exert relentless pressure on their suppliers to cut costs while meeting exacting quality requirements, and they often use a range of unfair trading practices to do so. The depression of prices paid to suppliers, coupled with inadequate Government support in producer countries for small-scale farmers and workers, has increased the risk of human and labour rights violations and, as Oxfam has found, driven greater global inequality.