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New Oxfam study: Starvation wages for pineapples and grapes

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The development organization Oxfam has traced the supply chains of wine and pineapple. Picture © iStock

The development organization Oxfam has traced the supply chains of wine and pineapple - from the shelves of the major German supermarket chains to specific farms and cultivation areas. In doing so, the organization states that it would be able to prove human rights violations at the suppliers of all major German supermarkets. For the study "Limitless Exploitation", Oxfam and its partner organizations interviewed 130 workers, as well as trade unions and activists on the ground.

Starvation wages and abuse

The organization reported daily wages of 4.50 Euros at an Edeka supply plantation in Costa Rica. In South Africa, almost half of the female workers interviewed for the study, would have said that they earned less than the minimum wage of 194 Euros per month. In both countries, piecework of more than twelve hours would be the order of the day. Women working in the cultivation of grapes in South Africa would have reported that they are being coerced into sexual acts to get a job. They would also be exposed to toxic pesticides and would have no access to toilets or drinking water while working.

Those who complain are kicked out

Workers who complain about the conditions are put under massive pressure, according to Oxfam. Court rulings from Costa Rica, for example, would allow the unlawful dismissal of union members on pineapple plantations that supply Rewe and Lidl. Family members of union members would also have been dismissed. "The situation is particularly difficult for migrant workers, who live in constant fear of being deported and are therefore even more vulnerable to violence and exploitation," Oxfam reports.

The development organization explicitly blames this on the market power and price pressure of the four large German retail groups Edeka, Rewe, Aldi and Lidl/Kaufland. "Only those who are cheap in purchase end up on the supermarket shelf," says Tim Zahn, Oxfam's expert on business and human rights, describing the corporations' policy. The result: "While workers are fobbed off with starvation wages, the supermarkets make rich profits at their expense." Oxfam calculated that of a bottle of wine sold for three Euros, only about three cents reach the farm workers in South Africa.

Those affected should be able to sue

Oxfam called on supermarkets to fully comply with their human rights due diligence obligations for their entire supply chain - as it would be required by the Supply Chain Act. It would be essential that the companies pay their suppliers reasonable prices and thus enable wages from which the workers could support themselves and their families. The German government must ambitiously implement the German supply chain law, Oxfam demands.

It should also push for an EU supply chain law that would allow those affected by human rights violations to sue for damages in German courts. German law lacks such a possibility. In its study, Oxfam also published statements from the four corporations, suppliers and plantations that denied the allegations. Most of the plantations were certified by Rainforest Alliance and according to GlobalGAP standards. Rainforest Alliance announced it would investigate the allegations.

The complete study can be found here (in German).


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