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27th Jun 2022

NGOs expose rights abuses in EU supermarket supply chains

  • There is an 'inherent responsibility' on supermarkets to work with their suppliers to avoid human rights abuses, said Oxfam (Photo: Jan Willem van Wessel)

More than 80 NGOs and trade organisations called on the EU institutions to deliver new legislation that establishes a mandatory human rights and environmental framework for businesses and companies operating and offering products or services in the EU.

A new report released on Thursday (10 October) by Oxfam revealed that many of the people producing the food on sale in European supermarkets are victims of poverty pay, harsh working conditions, gender discrimination, and human rights abuses.

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According to the report, the German supermarkets ALDI, Edeka, Lidl and Rewe and the Dutch company PLUS lack effective policies, or fail to show how they prevent human rights abuses such as child labour, harassment or fair and equal treatment of their supply chain's workers.

A spokesperson for Aldi told the Independent that the company works hard "to ensure every person working in our supply chain is treated fairly and has their human rights respected. We share the values behind Oxfam's campaign and are in regular dialogue with them."

Supermarkets are not directly accountable for abuses that occur in their supply chains since they do not directly employ the workers.

However, their business models can indirectly enable these abuses to happen, making them "complicit" according to the UN guiding principles on business and human rights

There is an "inherent responsibility" on supermarkets to work with their suppliers to avoid human rights abuses that take place in supply chains, states Oxfam, adding that more and more customers and investors want to shop and make money "guilt-free".

Aldi, Rewe, Lidl , Edeka in spotlight

Oxfam's expert on EU economic justice policy, Marc-Olivier Herman, believes that the new mandate of the commission starting next month has the opportunity to show leadership in favour of an inclusive and sustainable "economy that works for people".

"The EU must prove it is a champion of human rights and make it a priority to table EU legislation that requires companies and investors to uphold human rights throughout their global supply chains," said Herman.

A total of 88 NGOs complain that the current EU legislation falls short of adequately addressing human and labour rights abuses in supply chains.

"There are still no cross-sectoral laws in the EU requiring companies and financial institutions to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for human rights abuses and environmental damage of their operations, subsidiaries or value chains," the NGOs said in a statement.

The future commissioner of justice, Belgium's Didier Reynders, said during his hearing last week that he is committed to demanding new requirements into company laws.

Reynders said that there are many voluntary commitments of many companies concerning human rights compliance, "but it is not enough".

"I am sure that we need to go through a real change in company law to ask more obligations about the social interest of the companies, and I'm also sure that it is quite important to discuss the supply chain," he added.

According to Oxfam, the lack of this legislation makes it impossible for companies to be held accountable when they deny their responsibility to respect human rights and the environment.

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