Supermarket giants accused of migrant worker abuse

Ten of the UK’s leading supermarkets have been linked to multiple cases of migrant abuse, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

New data from the international NGO has revealed that migrant workers at grocery retailers have been mistreated, with the organisation claiming the Government failed to protect their human rights.

Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, was named as the supermarket linked to the most cases of migrant abuse, with eight cases between 1 December 2022 and 30 November 2023.

Lidl, Morrisons Sainsbury’s and The Co-op similarly were explicitly linked to migrant abuse, with Lidl having four cases, and the others three.

Other grocery retailers named by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre’s findings include Asda and Waitrose, which both had two cases, and Marks & Spencer and Spar, which had one case each.

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The revelation follows the report declaring over half (56%) of migrant worker abuse in the UK are linked to the food supply chain – from agriculture, fishing, processing, packing and on the grocery shop floor.

Exploitation ranges from wage theft or poverty wages, cited by 1 in 4 workers in cases of abuse, to intimidation, reported in 10 cases (37%) and precarious or unsuitable living conditions in 9 cases (33%).

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre senior migrant rights researcher Isobel Archer said: “The workers who harvest, process and pack our food are regarded as essential workers.”

“Supermarkets must realise it’s simply not enough to publish general labour rights policies; they need to recognise specific vulnerabilities for UK-bound farmworkers and fishers and urgently respond to them by adopting tailored and migrant worker-centric risk assessment, due diligence and remedy processes.

“It is high time businesses recognise the consequence of their inaction and lack of safeguards – and they must believe workers. There is still some way to go if they want to be credited with taking their human rights responsibilities seriously.”

A Tesco spokesperson said: “Protecting human rights in our supply chains is central to how we do business – any form of human rights abuse is unacceptable, and we expect all our suppliers to respect the rights of workers and the communities in which they operate.

“As a responsible business, and to ensure transparency, we publish an annual Modern Slavery Statement, alongside the action we and our suppliers have taken to ensure workers’ rights are protected. A key part of our strategy is to convene industry on critical issues affecting workers, and we continue to drive improvements, working in partnership with trade unions, industry groups and NGOs.”

A Waitrose spokesperson added: “Worker welfare is absolutely vital to us, and we continue to work alongside our colleagues in Government, Scheme Operators, Growers and NGOs to champion sustainable practices across the UK farming sector.”

“We know our customers shop with us for high quality, sustainable fruit and veg, and we recognise it’s been a tough time for farmers and growers recently – which is why we continue to pay fairly and maintain our great relationships, so that we can continue supporting them to produce fantastic quality food that our customers will love.”

Grocery Gazette has contacted the supermarkets mentioned in this article for comment.



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