Oxfam has alleged that “poor pay” and “harsh working conditions” are commonplace on farms and plantations in Brazil and India which supply tea or fruit to some of the UK’s biggest grocers, according to new research by the charity.
The supermarkets named by Oxfam include Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons. Interviews with workers on 50 tea plantations in Assam, India, revealed that cholera and typhoid are “prevalent” because workers lack access to toilets and safe drinking water.
Additionally, Oxfam said half the workers questioned receive ration cards from the government because wages are so low and women workers “regularly clocked up 13 hours of back breaking work a day”.
The charity said Aldi, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s confirmed that they source their own brand tea from companies whose suppliers include the estates visited and Lidl was amongst other global supermarkets which sources tea from the Assam region.
It added that Walmart, which owns Asda, responded but neither denied or confirmed links.
Rachel Wilshaw, Oxfam ethical trade manager said: “Despite some pockets of good practice, supermarkets’ relentless pursuit of profits continues to fuel poverty and human rights abuses in their supply chains.
“Supermarkets must do more to end exploitation, pay all their workers a living wage, ensure women get a fair deal and be more transparent about where they source their products.”
She added: “Supermarkets are snapping up the lion’s share of the price we pay at the till but the workers who toil for hours to harvest tea and fruit face inhumane working conditions and are paid so little they can’t even feed their families.”
In response, a Tesco spokesperson said: “This is the second year in a row that Tesco has been assessed by Oxfam as doing most, of all major supermarkets globally, to ensure human rights are respected in food supply chains.”
Peter Andrews, head of sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Supermarkets in the UK are spearheading actions aimed at improving the lives of the millions of people across the globe who contribute to the retail supply chain.
“Our members are working hard to address existing injustices and continue to collaborate internationally with NGOs, business groups and government on this vital issue.”
An Aldi spokesperson told the BBC: “We continue to work hard to ensure every person working in our supply chain is treated fairly and has their human rights respected.
“We share the values behind Oxfam’s campaign and are in regular dialogue with them.”