Supermarket supply chains are driving poverty and inequality. We can do better

Poverty 2018 UN

WFP/Gregory Barrow In Malawi, a woman picks up her monthly ration of supercereal.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International

The global food chain is a modern marvel.

It employs hundreds of millions of people, an eclectic fusion of different cultures from all corners of the world brought together through the wonders of food.

It is also a story of industrial-scale hunger and inequality. Oxfam’s new research and its Behind the Price campaign show the hidden human cost to this powerful industry – and it goes to the heart of global poverty.

For decades, Oxfam has worked with farmers and workers who grow and process our food. Our research shows that workers employed by and farmers selling into global supply chains are getting a shrinking share of the end consumer price for their produce. Millions of those people behind the everyday items in our shopping baskets don’t earn enough for a decent standard of living. It is a cruel paradox that the people producing our food and their families are often going without enough to eat themselves.

How can this be happening? Meet the super-powerful gatekeepers of the global food trade driving inequality: supermarkets. These are well-known, household brands, upon whose convenience and low prices so many of us have come to rely.

Their business model has them in brutal competition with each other, using their buying muscle to squeeze their suppliers for the best margins possible. Just 10 supermarkets account for more than half of all food retail sales in the European Union. In the Netherlands, five chains control three quarters. Their share of the final price that consumers pay at the check-out has been rising. If you’re a supermarket shareholder or top executive, then business has been good. The top eight publicly listed supermarkets made $22 billion in profit in 2016 and returned $15 billion of it in cash to shareholders.

What chance does a poor woman food producer at the other end of the global trade have in the face of a trillion-dollar buying sector? Meet Budi, a shrimp-processing worker in Indonesia. She has to peel up to 950 shrimps an hour to receive her minimum wage. She avoids going to the toilet and stands for nine hours at a time. It would take her more than 5,000 years to make the average annual salary of a top supermarket CEO in the US.

Other women working in shrimp-processing plants told us about having to take mandatory pregnancy testing. They told us about leaving their families for so long that their children forget their faces. They talk about supervisors berating and humiliating them.

From poverty wages on Indian tea plantations to hunger among South African grape-pickers, economic exploitation is hardwired into the food system. Every time, the impact is most severe on women. They dominate the least secure and lowest-paid positions, shoulder most of the unpaid work on family farms and are routinely denied a voice in positions of power.

The spiralling reach of supermarket giants alongside the erosion of small-scale farmers’ and workers’ bargaining power will continue to increase inequality. Until small-scale farmers and workers get a larger share of the value of the food they produce, tackling poverty will stall. None of this is rocket science. To governments who have liberalized trade and deregulated agricultural and labour markets, this is a consequence of your policies.

Governments and supermarkets together have the power to do better. I am yet to hear of any justifiable moral or economic reason why women and men supplying supermarkets should be exploited and go hungry. Supermarkets, too, have a business case to improve. New forms of responsible business are taking hold and new technologies are empowering consumers and investors alike. They must seize this chance to chart a new path.

How can they change? As part of our investigation, Oxfam has assessed 16 of the world’s biggest supermarket chains on their policies on transparency and accountability, workers’ rights, women’s rights and small-scale farmers. We have shared our research with them and we hope it starts a race to improve their rankings.

There are no high achievers yet. Twelve failed to score a single point on their policies towards women in their supply chains. That sounds negative – it’s a call to action. When Oxfam launched a similar initiative called Behind the Brands with the world’s 10 biggest food companies, they made significant improvements. Many of them are proud, and rightly so.

Change is achievable. Supermarket CEOs can sign off today on the elimination of unfair trading practices. Take living wages – adding just 0.4% to what we pay in a supermarket would be enough for shrimp-processing workers like Budi in Indonesia to lead a decent life. Better still, that investment could be found simply by distributing current consumer prices more fairly among those in the supply chain.

We are also urging governments to intervene – to rein in the abuse of power by supermarkets and their suppliers, and to protect their farmers and workers better. It would be well to invest more in small-scale agriculture, increase the minimum wage to a living wage and guarantee the freedom of workers to organize. These measures would transform millions of lives.

A different way of doing business is possible, built on respect for the rights of working women and men, rather than the obsession with squeezing more value for shareholders. Citizens can rally to demand their food be produced without human suffering. Supermarkets must rewrite the business rules of how value is created and shared.

The time is ripe for the global food system to end, not uphold, the injustice of poverty.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

European Young Innovators Forum @ European Business Summit 2014: Europe for StartUps, vision 2020

Competing with Apple and leading innovation: Google’s world replies to EU on android charges

Who and why want the EU-US trade agreement here and now

Robot inventors are on the rise. But are they welcomed by the patent system?

This tool shows you which cities will flood as ice sheets melt

The West and Russia impose a new order on the world

GSMA Mobile World Congress Americas

‘Unconscionable’ to kill aid workers, civilians: UN Emergency Coordinator

The global issue of migration in 2017

A new global financial crisis develops fast; who denies it?

Breaking news: Juncker’s Commission mutant trojan horse is on the loose in Strasbourg

ECOFIN: Protecting bankers and tax-evaders

The European Brain Drain: a truth or a myth?

At Ministerial session, UN regional office in Beirut to focus on technology for sustainable development

Can We(esterners) ever understand (the) Chinese

Commission: Raising the social issues that can make or break the monetary union

How we can work together in the fight against NCDs

Mine action is at ‘the nexus’ of peace, security and development: UN official

Nicaragua must end ‘witch-hunt’ against dissenting voices – UN human rights experts

To Brexit, or not to Brexit…rather not: 10 Downing Street, London

A week to decide if the EU is to have a Banking Union

2014 budget: The EU may prove unable to agree on own resources

Big data is coming to agriculture. Farmers must set its course

Latin America’s cities are ready to take off. But their infrastructure is failing them

Inaction on obesity stands in the way of sustainable development

China dazzles the world with her Silk Road plan to connect, Asia, Europe and Africa

The entire Australian state of New South Wales is in drought

It’s time for the world to stand up behind South Africa

A Sting Exclusive: “China is Making Good Stories not Bad Ones”, Ambassador Yang highlights from Brussels

New rules for audiovisual media services approved by Parliament

German and French bankers looted the Irish and Spanish unemployed

The JADE Spring Conference 2017 is casting its shadows before

Preparing the future today: World Health Organisation and young doctors

EU: Huge surplus in the trade of services with the rest of the world

Global Citizen-Volunteer Internships

Is euro to repeat its past highs with the dollar?

European Commission reacts to the US restrictions on steel and aluminium affecting the EU

Why we need both science and humanities for a Fourth Industrial Revolution education

This is how AI can help you make sense of the world

MEP Cristiana Muscardini @ European Business Summit 2014: International Trade in Europe

China is adding a London-sized electric bus fleet every five weeks

A Sting Exclusive: “Delivering on the Environmental Dimension of the new Sustainable Development Agenda”, Ulf Björnholm underscores from UNEP Brussels

Stricter rules and tougher sanctions for market manipulation and financial fraud

Greece and Ukraine main items on EU28 menu; the course is set

How dearly will Germany pay for the Volkswagen emissions rigging scandal

A Valentine’s Special: we can never overdose on love

Global health challenges require global medical students

EU Council approves visa-free travel for Ukraine and cement ties with Kiev

EU Council: Private web data to be protected by…abusers

EU cracks under the weight of its policy on the Ukraine-Russia nub

Aidex: the Global Humanitarian and Development Aid Event

MWC 2016 LIVE: BT chief aims to be at UK 5G forefront

UN rights chief calls for release of hundreds abducted and abused in South Sudan

Commission sets moderate greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030

India-UN fund gets 22 development projects off the ground in first year

In Tokyo, UN chief expresses full support for US-Japan dialogue with North Korea

Merkel had it her way with the refugees & immigrants but can Greece and Turkey deliver?

The ECB tells Berlin that a Germanic Eurozone is unacceptable and doesn’t work

Disaster Medicine in Medical Education: the investment you just can´t afford to ignore

EU and New Zealand launch trade negotiations

More Stings?

Comments

  1. idpnsd says:

    “From poverty wages on Indian tea plantations to hunger among South African grape-pickers, economic exploitation is hardwired into the food system.” – Every activity of the central bank economy is hardwired to create poverty. Profiting, higher salary, tax cuts, creating recessions, etc. are all designed to transfer wealth from people to top 1%. That fact is you cannot become rich without stealing from others. There is no win-win. For every win-win case, there is always a third party who will be the loser. Win-lose is a law of nature. The wealth gap between rich and poor is increasing over past 50 years in USA. Unless you remove money poverty cannot be removed and it will continuously grow. Wealth gap is the correct measure of poverty. Make everything free, then poverty will vanish, businesses will also thrive, rich will become richer. Take a look at the Money-less economy chapter in the free book on soul theory at https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s