Waitrose has stopped selling some of its own-brand corned beef following allegations of slavery in its supply chain.
The supermarket made the move after an investigation into one of its meat suppliers found evidence of inhumane working conditions, including a lack of toilet facilities and drinking water.
Waitrose, the Co-op, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Lidl are among supermarkets that have in the past, or still do, source from JBS, the Brazilian meat packing firm at the centre of the allegations. Several of the supermarkets have said they will look into the claims.
According an investigation by the Guardian and Repórter Brazil, for a number of years JBS, one of the world’s largest meat packers, was purchasing beef from a cattle farm under federal investigation by Brazilian authorities for modern slavery.
A report said between 2013 and 2016 JBS was buying cattle from a farm where workers were kept in modern slavery like conditions. In a series of raids last year, Brazilian prosecutors are said to have found inhumane conditions including a lack of toilet facilities or drinking water.
The prosecutors said they believe the workers were kept in debt bondage, with money illegally taken from their wages to pay for food and protective equipment.
JBS said it does not buy cattle from any farm listed by the Brazilian Government as having an association with slave labour. A spokeswoman told SM the farm in question was not on the Ministry of Labour’s slavery blacklist, and that it stopped purchasing beef from the farm in 2016 as soon as it became aware of irregularities.
“JBS does not buy cattle from any farms which have any association with slave labour as listed by the Brazilian government,” she said.
Waitrose told SM it has found no modern slavery in its own supply chain, but it has stopped sourcing corned beef from JBS while it investigates the allegations. It added that packs of corn beef sourced from Britain were still on sale.
A spokesman for the Co-op said it takes such allegations seriously and would be investigating “with our suppliers in order to address any issues”. The Co-op’s canned own-brand corn beef is sourced and supplied by JBS.
Lidl told SM it does not source directly from JBS and was working closely with its suppliers to address the allegations.
Canned food manufacturer Princes also procures beef from JBS, and told SM: “We continually review our relationships with all suppliers, based on our ethical and environmental standards. These standards include prohibiting forced labour or illegal deforestation.”
A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said: “We’re very open about our ethical trade standards and commitments to sustainability, and always expect our suppliers to adhere to our code of conduct for ethical trade.”
M&S has not yet responded to requests for comment.
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