UK supermarkets urged to act on human rights abuses along supply chains during coronavirus epidemic

Jarvis Smith - My Green Pod

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Published: 17 May 2020

This Article was Written by: Jarvis Smith - My Green Pod

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Ethical Consumer is calling on UK supermarkets to help address human rights abuses in their southern Spanish fruit and vegetable supply chains during the coronavirus emergency.

The campaigning organisation says that Covid-19 has pushed the situation for migrant workers, employed on farms that supply fruit and vegetables to the UK’s major supermarkets, to crisis point.

‘Ethical Consumer is calling on the UK’s supermarkets to take responsibility for the rights of workers who grow the produce that they sell.

‘Although all major UK supermarkets claim to have adequate policies in place, in some instances they are clearly failing to protect workers in their supply chains.’

CLARE CARLILE
Researcher from Ethical Consumer

Among other actions, Ethical Consumer is calling for supermarkets to publish complete lists of suppliers, tracing back to the farms they source from, and the establishment of a whistle-blowing hotline for workers to report abuses.

Cheap labour

Recent social distancing laws have confined migrant workers, providing fruit and vegetables to UK supermarkets, to the cramped shanty towns in southern Spain where they live.

Many workers say they are without access to running water, food or other vital supplies in the Almeria and Huelva regions.

‘For years dozens of ghettos have been forged in the fields of Almeria, where an army of thousands of day-labourers, most of them young, and including more and more women, are humiliated and used as cheap labour by employers who are only interested in squeezing their workforce.’

MARTÍN
SOC-SAT Union in Almeria

The region is believed to supply all major UK supermarkets. 97% of Spain’s berry crop is grown in Huelva, and over 35% of the country’s total fruit and vegetable exports are from Almeria (greenhouses, main image).

‘Crisis point’

Workers report that employers may refuse to pay minimum wages, enforce unsafe working conditions and violate the right to unionise.

Civil society organisations say that the living conditions, and the current dire situation, are the result of years of malpractice by companies in the region.

‘Coronavirus has pushed the already appalling conditions to crisis point. For years, workers have faced the systematic violation of their rights. Now the pandemic has exposed what this means for the workers, who are struggling to survive under current conditions.

‘The situation has been known for 20 years, but nothing’s changed. Supermarkets must take responsibility for these chronic problems in their supply chains. We are also calling on them to support immediate relief efforts by local organisations, to provide vital supplies during the pandemic.’

CLARE CARLILE
Researcher from Ethical Consumer

Supporting workers

Ethical Consumer has launched a Crowdfunder with the SOC-SAT union in Almeria and Huelva, and with the grassroots campaign organisation The Collective of African Workers in Huelva.

Money raised will go towards food, medicine, nappies and other supplies for those confined to the shanty towns. It has asked UK supermarkets to donate.

The Crowdfunder reached its initial target in under four hours, and has now raised over £20,000.

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