Small-scale farmers and workers who produce supermarket food are being exploited and going hungry, according to a report published by Oxfam.
The charity has revealed millions of people are trapped in poverty and face brutal working conditions according to the Ripe for Change report on global supermarket supply chains.
Oxfam, along with partner organisations, surveyed hundreds of the farmers and workers across five countries and discovered many were struggling to feed themselves and their families.
Many do not earn enough for a basic standard of living and some get less than half of what they require to get by, with women often providing most of the labour for the lowest wages.
The report noted more than nine out of ten grape workers in South Africa and seafood processors in Thailand – predominantly women – said they hadn’t had enough to eat in the previous month.
The report highlights that supermarkets including Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Lidl and Aldi, are increasingly squeezing the price they pay their suppliers. Less of the price paid at the till is reaching the food producers, causing economic exploitation, suffering, inequality and poverty.
Oxfam’s report marks the launch of a new global campaign Behind the Barcodes, which urges supermarkets and governments to crack down on inhumane working conditions. It also aims to increase transparency on where food comes from, tackle discrimination against women, and ensure the workers who produce the food get a larger share of what consumers spend on the products.
Matthew Spencer, director of policy for Oxfam GB said: “It’s shocking that so many of the farmers and workers producing food for our supermarket shelves are going hungry themselves.
“Our biggest supermarkets are squeezing the price they pay their suppliers, resulting in huge, hidden suffering amongst the women and men who supply our food and trapping them in poverty.”
According to the data, UK supermarkets receive almost ten times more of the checkout price than the farmers and workers who produce them, when it came to twelve common food products including tea, bananas and orange juice.
Oxfam and the Sustainable Seafood Alliance Indonesia examined the working conditions in prawn processing plants and exporters in Thailand and Indonesia respectively, which supply some of the biggest supermarkets in world, including the six UK supermarkets.
Workers described forced pregnancy tests, unsafe working conditions, poverty wages, strictly controlled bathroom and water breaks, and verbal abuse.
Mr Spencer added: “Global businesses can help lift millions of people out of poverty, but the food industry currently rewards shareholder wealth over the work of millions of women and men, with supermarkets ignoring the hidden suffering behind their food supply chains. When companies get serious about supporting decent work they can help transform lives in some of the poorest parts of the world.”