Supermarkets in the West are using their purchasing power to force suppliers to cut their prices, contributing to exploitation and even forced labour of millions of farmers worldwide, a global charity said Thursday.
“Millions of women and men who produce our food are trapped in poverty and face brutal working conditions, despite billion-dollar profits in the food industry,” Oxfam International said as it released a report titled “Ripe for Change”.
“From forced labour aboard fishing vessels in southeast Asia, to poverty wages on Indian tea plantations and hunger faced by workers on South African grape farms, human and labour rights abuses are all too common in food supply chains,” the report said.
In surveys conducted in five countries last year, Oxfam said it documented what it called “unfair trading practices” by supermarket giants such as setting prices below the cost of sustainable production.
They were also unwilling to raise prices in order to take into account increases in the minimum wage, it said.
Such practices left the workers at the bottom of the supply chain to pay the heaviest price.
In Thailand, more than 90 percent of workers at seafood processing plants said they had gone without enough food the previous month, Oxfam said.
Around 80 percent of those workers were women, it added.
In Italy, where many farm workers are migrants, 75 percent of women working on fruit and vegetable farms said they or a family member had to miss meals because they could not afford to buy enough food.
– ‘Cruel paradox’ –
“It is one of the cruellest paradoxes of our time that the people producing our food and their families are often going without enough to eat themselves,” Oxfam said.
The charity criticised major European and US supermarkets for failing to ensure that food producers were treated with dignity.