Ripe for Change: Ending human suffering in supermarket supply chains - A Fairtrade Perspective

The Fairtrade Foundation welcomes Oxfam’s report Ripe for Change which highlights the cruel paradox that people producing our food are at risk of going hungry themselves, and calls for a fundamental shift in the way that UK supermarkets do business, to one that is built on greater respect for human and labour rights.

Cheryl McGechie, Director of Public Engagement at the Fairtrade Foundation said: “We are pleased that today’s report from Oxfam puts the spotlight on the unequal share of value in our supply chains. Oxfam is right to say that retailers must do more to promote a living income and tackle human and labour rights risks throughout the world.”

The research argues that supermarkets are increasingly squeezing the price they pay their suppliers with less and less of the price paid at the till reaching the small-scale farmers and workers who produce the food. Oxfam suggests that this, coupled with the weakening influence of small-scale farmers and workers, is causing economic exploitation, suffering, inequality and poverty.

The report highlights how the UK is relatively progressive in certain areas such as Fairtrade. It has the biggest market globally for Fairtrade products, and the FAIRTRADE Mark is known and trusted by more than 80% of consumers. It stresses that Fairtrade’s mission goes beyond other certification schemes in building greater fairness into its model, including minimum price and social premium.  Oxfam note that independent evaluation has demonstrated higher incomes for Fairtrade coffee farmers in Tanzania and Peru, banana growers in Colombia and tea smallholders in Kenya.

A Supermarket Scorecard which shows how supermarkets, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Aldi and Lidl need to do more to be a fuller part of the solution. Of the six most powerful supermarkets that were ranked on the strength of their policies and practices to address human rights and commercial policies, none achieved more than 23% against Oxfam’s indicators of good practice. Apart from sourcing Fairtrade certified products, companies scored very poorly in the category of farmers. Notably Sainsbury’s came second, and has high levels of Fairtrade sourcing for products such as bananas.

Oxfam also assessed powerful supermarkets in Germany, the Netherlands and the US, and praised PLUS in the Netherlands and Lidl in Germany for scoring highest for transparency and accountability. PLUS is the only Dutch supermarket that has made an explicit commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and to regular reporting against them. By committing to sourcing only Fairtrade for own brand products where this is possible, PLUS also shows they give preference to suppliers which demonstrate a commitment to the wellbeing of workers, small-scale producers and women. Lidl Germany scores on the same indicator thanks to its efforts to promote Fairtrade products in Germany, including marking the whole of 2016 as ‘Fairtrade Year’.

Cheryl continued: “Through their campaign, Oxfam are clearly calling for retailers to make a step change in business ethics across all supply chains, and are supportive of the value of Fairtrade commitments within Fairtrade core commodities. Their new evidence certainly builds the case that many of the issues we prioritise at Fairtrade - fair value, power in supply chains, living income and wage, are all priorities for fairness and justice in trade.”

The report calls for companies to give preference to business models that deliver better outcomes for producers and workers. Such models at farm level include the Fairtrade certified Phata Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative in Malawi, where 436 smallholder farmers have come together to own the enterprise collectively; they used their Fairtrade premiums to develop a maize mill for community use. “Fairtrade only” companies such as Cafédirect and Divine Chocolate are also highlighted for channelling profits back to farmers, who are also represented on their respective boards.

“Fairtrade works closely with commercial partners to help them understand their producers and tackle human rights abuses and modern slavery risks in their supply chains. Additionally, we are leading efforts to move towards a living income across products that carry the Fairtrade Mark as soon as possible.”

But the report also clearly recommends that all actors in the sector have a contribution to make and that supermarkets should lead the way. “We cannot stamp out human suffering in food supply chains alone. It will take everyone to make a joint effort to bring about the profound changes we all want to see, and this report emphasises the particular duty that retailers in particular must live up to.” Cheryl concluded.

-Ends –

Notes to Editors

  • Oxfam GB has been at the forefront of innovation for more equitable, pro-poor business models from co-founding Fairtrade coffee brand Cafédirect in 1991, and the Fairtrade Foundation the following year to campaigning against corporate injustice through its Make Trade Fair campaign in the 2000s.