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Supermarkets: help end human rights abuses in Spanish supply chains during the Covid pandemic

Covid19 has pushed the situation for migrant workers in Spain, employed on farms that supply fruit and vegetables to the UK's major supermarkets, to crisis point.

Ethical Consumer has long been calling on UK supermarkets to help address human rights abuses in fruit and vegetable supply chains. Now they must provide immediate relief during the coronavirus emergency.

Although all major UK supermarkets claim to have adequate policies in place to protect workers, in some instances they are clearly failing.

We are now asking UK supermarkets to donate to our Covid-19 Relief Crowdfunder raising money for workers affected in southern Spain to help with some of the worst and most immediate problems.

Take Action

Tweet UK supermarkets, asking them to support the Crowdfunder.

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Contact the Supermarkets directly

Email your nearest supermarket and ask them to commit to making the above changes. You can email each of the supermarkets directly using the email button on their company profile page.

Years of malpractice

Recent social distancing laws have confined migrant workers, providing fruit and vegetables to UK supermarkets, to the cramped shanty towns in southern Spain where they live. Many workers say they are without access to running water, food or other vital supplies in the Almeria and Huelva regions.

Civil society organisations say that the living conditions, and the current dire situation, are the result of years of malpractice by companies in the region.

Martín from SOC-SAT Union in Almeria said:

“For years dozens of ghettos have been forged in the fields of Almeria, where an army of thousands of day-labourers, most of them young, and including more and more women, are humiliated and used as cheap labour, by employers who are only interested in squeezing their workforce.”

Workers report that employers may refuse to pay minimum wages, enforce unsafe working conditions, and violate the right to unionise.

Ethical Consumer and those working in the region have long called for supermarkets to publish complete lists of suppliers, tracing back to the farms they source from, and the set up whistle-blowing hotlines for workers to report abuses.

Pushed to crisis point

The coronavirus has pushed the already appalling conditions to crisis point. For years, workers have faced the systematic violation of their rights. Now the pandemic has exposed what this means for the workers, who are struggling to survive under current conditions.

Migrant workers have been confined to the cramped settlements where they live, often without adequate access to running water, basic sanitation or food. Many are unable to work during the pandemic, leaving them and their families with little or no income.

Supermarkets must take responsibility for these chronic problems in their supply chains. We are also calling on them to support immediate relief efforts by local organisations, to provide vital supplies during the pandemic.

The region is believed to supply all major UK supermarkets. 97% of Spain’s berry crop is grown in Huelva, and over 35% of the country’s total fruit and vegetable exports are from Almeria.

Ethical Trade Initiative

The Ethical Trade Initiative published a briefing on the 4th May on the responsibility of companies towards migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. It urged all members to take a number of measures to ensure that the rights and welfare of migrant workers are upheld. Aldi, Asda, Co-op, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose are all members.

Members should start by mapping their supply chains to identify the presence of migrant workers and understand how the current context is affecting them. In the absence of regular on-site audits, NGOs and local trade unions should be engaged in order to provide partial audit reports. The ETI also stressed the need to consider the intersectionality of migrant workers’ discrimination so that all factors which could compound discrimination, such as gender, ethnicity, cast, and age, are accounted for.

We believe that supermarkets should take these steps throughout their supply chains, not only with direct suppliers.

Covid-19 Crowdfunder appeal

Ethical Consumer has launched a Crowdfunder with the SOC-SAT union in Almeria and Huelva, and with the grassroots campaign organisation The Collective of African Workers in Huelva.

Money raised will go towards food, medicine, nappies and other supplies for those confined to the shanty towns.

The Crowdfunder reached its initial target in under four hours, and has now raised over £20,000.