Supermarkets post dismal human rights scores in Oxfam study
Oxfam launched a new awareness campaign on how supermarkets — including Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Costco, Ahold Delhaize's Giant and Stop & Shop, and Whole Foods — treat workers in their food supply chains. The poverty-focused charity looked at working conditions, inequality and worker wages, as well as how stores' policies, commitments and actions affect workers and farmers — especially women.
Walmart had the highest total score in the report, with a 17% score on worker treatment and transparency. Other stores posted more dismal totals, with Albertsons getting 8%, Costco scoring a 6%, Giant and Stop & Shop with 5%, and Whole Foods with 2%. Kroger's score is 0. These scores indicate retailers need to improve transparency around food sourcing policies and demonstrate respect for labor and human rights for suppliers, Oxfam says.
Oxfam conducted surveys of 459 small-scale farmers and workers across five countries — Italy, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, and Thailand — and found an overwhelming amount of workers could not afford enough food, had strictly controlled bathroom and water breaks, and suffered verbal abuse.
It isn't often that a 17% score is at the top of the class, but there are few reports that zero in on human rights as much as this one from Oxfam. Walmart's top score is helped by its recent commitment to source more food products from women farmers. Walmart, which is often criticized for its working conditions, is the only supermarket on Oxfam’s scorecard with policies on the treatment of women in their supply chain.
Whole Foods, once named one of America’s top companies for corporate social responsibility has come up short on a few of its core values, according to the Oxfam report. Although the company has been public about its efforts to remain socially responsible, the report says it has not been transparent on information about their suppliers, making it hard to confirm if it is following through with its claims.
The report contrasts the profits made by supermarkets with the poor working conditions of many workers. Eight of the world's largest publicly owned supermarket chains in the world made about $22 billion in profits — $15 billion of which were given to shareholders. The share of those profits that reaches workers and producers, the report says, is sometimes less than 5%. Many of the workers cannot afford a decent standard of living, the report found. Where women make up most of the workforce, the wage gap is greater. The study found that nine out of 10 women working on South African grape farms and three out of four women working on Italian fruit and vegetable farms had not had enough food for their families in the previous month.
Despite the large profit numbers the study attributes to grocery stores, the food retail business is notorious for its low margins. However, investing in human rights and sustainability might prove more profitable than financially squeezing suppliers. According to a report by Cone Communications, 87% of consumers said they would purchase a product because a company took initiative in fighting social injustices. On the flip side, 76% would refuse to buy a product if the company supported an issue against their beliefs. Millennials are the driving force of this statistic. Seven out of 10 millennials are willing to spend more for products and services that allay their social principles and want to buy from companies that practice business sustainability and ethically.
Millennials are the fastest growing force in the marketplace and companies need to change the way they do business to keep up with them. Most importantly, this generation wants companies to be open and honest about their initiatives and prioritize making an impact on the world.
Transparency is important to millennials and other consumers. A little more transparency may also result in higher scores on this kind of study. The scores are based on stores' policies — some of which may be internal or hard for the public to find. Establishing policies can help consumers know more about what retailers do, and may drive more traffic to them.
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