4 key ways to take human suffering out of food value chains: Look Behind the Price

Supermarkets are increasingly squeezing the price they pay their suppliers. This, coupled with the weakening influence of small-scale farmers and workers is causing human rights violations, inequality, and poverty. Here's how to fix this.

Today Oxfam launched a new campaign on food value chains: Behind the Price. The campaign highlights the inequalities in the food retailers supply chains, and is launching a scorecard that analyzes the policies of 16 major supermarket chains in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US. The scorecard assesses the supermarket chains’ policies and practice in four thematic areas: women, workers, small holder farmers, and overall transparency.

Also released as part of the launch, Ripe for Change report, which found that supermarkets are increasingly squeezing the price they pay their suppliers. This, coupled with the weakening influence of small-scale farmers and workers is causing human rights violations, inequality, and poverty. Among the findings:

  • The average earnings of small-scale farmers and workers in the supply chains of 12 common products—from South African grapes, to Peruvian avocados, to Indian tea—is not enough for a decent standard of living, and where women make up most of the workforce, the gap is greater.
  • Supermarkets have kept an increasing share of the money their consumers spend, while the share that reaches workers and food producers has fallen, sometimes to less than 5 percent.
  • The eight largest publicly-owned supermarket chains generated nearly a trillion dollars in sales, $22 billion in profit, and returned $15 billion to shareholders in 2016.
  • Food insecurity is common, according to surveys of hundreds of small-scale farmers and workers across five different countries working in the supply chains of supermarkets.

Figure of share of end consumer price - Behind The Price

Oxfam also conducted specific research on working conditions in shrimp supply chains in Thailand and Indonesia where it found unsafe conditions, poverty wages, strictly controlled bathroom and water breaks, routine verbal abuse, and discrimination faced by women.

As a result, Oxfam is calling on supermarket chains to:

1. Radically improve transparency in the sourcing of food

Shine a light on current labor practices in food supply chains and ensure that citizens can hold companies and governments to account for their activities.

2. Know, show, and act on the risk of human rights violations faced by women and men in supermarket supply chains

Move beyond an ad-hoc approach to the auditing of suppliers, to one based on the anticipation and prevention of human and labor rights violations.

3. Guarantee safe working conditions and equal opportunities for women:

Including secure contracts and equal pay for equal work, and immediate steps to end violence and discrimination against women working in food supply chains.

4. Fairly share the significant revenues in the food industry with the women and men who produce our food

By closing the gap between current income levels and living wages, using trade practice to promote strong performance by businesses on human rights, and exploring alternative business models that may result in a fairer share of the value reaching producers.

This campaign follows our work on Behind the Brands which has focused on the supply chains of the big 10 food and beverage companies over the last few years.We have found through that campaign, that when customers speak, businesses listen, even on issues of sustainability and human rights.

Now we’re hoping our supporters - and all their friends and networks, and more! - will take action to make sure inequality, poverty, and human suffering are never ingredients in the food we buy.

Take action to end the suffering now

This entry posted by Irit Tamir, Director of Oxfam America's Private Sector Department, on 21 June 2018.

Photo: Mary lives in Goziir, Northern Ghana with her husband and six family members. Mary has benefitted from Oxfam’s projects to help small-scale farmers increase their crop yields, build energy efficient stoves and have access to small loans.

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