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Oxfam: German supermarkets continue to pay starvation wages

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Brazilian worker
Workers in the global South are struggling for their existence. © Tatiana Cardeal / Oxfam Brazil

While German retail chains posted record sales in 2020, people at the beginning of their global supply chains were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The aid organisation Oxfam gives examples and names.

For the report "Pandemic Profiteers and Virus Losers", Oxfam and partner organisations interviewed workers on coffee plantations in Brazil, tea fields in India, grape farms in South Africa and fishing boats in Thailand. Even before the pandemic, these workers were paid below the subsistence level.

Corona made them lose even more income and, if they had work, they could hardly protect themselves from infection. For example, women from tea plantations in Assam, India, reported that they earned an average of only 42 euros a month and lost 45 days of work in the first lockdown - without any compensation. In Brazil, women workers on coffee plantations had to buy their own protective masks - for Corona prevention as well as a protection against pesticides.

7 billion more for Aldi Süd

Oxfam contrasts these conditions with the figures of the German retail chains. They were able to "increase their sales by up to 17 per cent in 2020, and the assets of their owners grew by up to 30 per cent", writes the aid organisation.

"While the supermarket chains were cashing in, the workers who produce our food were struggling to make ends meet," says Tim Zahn, Oxfam's expert on business and human rights, and calculates: "The pandemic profits of the owners of Aldi Süd alone would have been enough to pay living wages to around four million workers in the Brazilian coffee sector."

Currently, these people are paid only 60 per cent of the minimum subsistence wage. At the same time, the fortune of Beate Heister and Karl Albrecht Junior, the main owners of Aldi Süd, has grown from just under 18 to almost 25 billion euros, Oxfam writes. "The fortune of Dieter Schwarz, the owner of the Schwarz Group, which includes Kaufland and Lidl, grew by more than 30 percent.

Oxfam is calling on retailers to ensure that workers in global supply chains are "adequately protected against Corona, receive free protective clothing and continue to receive wages in the event of a COVID-19 illness". It also says supermarket chains must change their business model "so that workers in global supply chains can make a living from their work and have their rights respected".

As a drastic example, the aid organisation mentions "modern slavery" on some Brazilian coffee plantations, for which there is "evidence of links to German supermarket chains".


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