Global supermarkets failed to give their front-line workers “substantial” support during the Covid-19 pandemic while heaping windfalls on shareholders, according to an Oxfam report.
The anti-poverty group claimed that the seven grocers it investigated – including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – raised their dividend payouts by an average of 123 per cent last year.
Around 98 per cent of their net profits went to shareholders.
Collectively, they spent just $11.3 billion on protecting staff and customers from coronavirus.
Supermarkets are seen as the big winners from the pandemic, remaining open while “non-essential” businesses were forced to shut their doors.
The view is borne out by the Oxfam analysis, which showed the seven grocers increased their market capitalisation by $101 billion.
Tesco gave out the largest amount to shareholders, distributing $7.3 billion in dividends.
The figure was over six times higher than in 2019, buoyed by the sales of its Thailand and Malaysia operations.
Walmart and Costco were the only other retailers to clear the $6 billion bar.
Sainsbury’s and Morrisons came towards the bottom of the list, though they still paid out $508 million and $344 million respectively.
“As consumers we were all so grateful for the life-line that supermarkets provided us through their brave front-line staff and overseas suppliers,” Oxfam executive director Gabriela Bucher said.
“But in their boardrooms, the bosses have continued business as usual, putting the interests of wealthy shareholders, owners and directors ahead of their workers.”
Tesco and Sainsbury’s have kept self-isolating staff on full pay during the pandemic, while Morrisons employees received sick pay.
The news comes after Morrisons received an unsolicited bid from a New York private equity firm last week.
Although the supermarket rejected the multi-billion buyout, Clayton, Dubilier and Rice has until July 17 to return with a better offer.
Morrisons shares are down slightly after a Monday surge, trading at 235p.