Asda ranked lowest in its public disclosure policies regarding food transparency © Photo by Nathan Stirk via Getty Images
Asda ranked lowest in its public disclosure policies regarding food transparency © Photo by Nathan Stirk via Getty Images

Drive to cut costs 'biggest barrier to ethical supply chains'

7 April 2022

Asda needs to priortise human rights within its supply chains after coming bottom in a ranking of supermarkets, according to Oxfam.

In its Behind the Barcode report Oxfam said Asda needed to put a human rights strategy in place, as it described “the drive to cut costs” as the biggest threat to supermarket supply chains.

“Asda is at the bottom demonstrating that it urgently needs to prioritise putting a human rights strategy in place to catch up,” said Oxfam.

The table ranks supermarkets’ publicly-disclosed policies regarding transparency over where their food comes from, conditions for workers, small-scale farmers, and tackling discrimination against women.

Asda ranked lowest on all four categories, only managing a score of 4% in its policies for small-scale farmers.

Tesco has topped the ranking for four years. Lidl came second, followed by Aldi, Sainbury’s, Morrisons and Asda. 

Oxfam said Tesco, Lidl, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons all improved their scores since 2018. Tesco improved its overall score from 23% in 2018 to 61% in 2022. 

In 2018 no supermarket published information about its food suppliers, but now Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco publish all their direct suppliers, reflecting a “radical shift” in supply chain transparency. 

Oxfam said Lidl had gone further than this, and now publishes its full supply chain for bananas, tea, strawberries and seafood.

Radhika Sarin, private sector senior adviser at Oxfam, said the campaign had helped created “a race to the top for the retailers to improve their human rights rating”.

“It is encouraging that supermarkets understand they have a responsibility to tackle human rights abuses in their supply chains. However, the drive to cut costs and negotiate the lowest possible prices with suppliers remains the biggest barrier to better pay and conditions,” she said.

“We need supermarkets to switch to responsible buying practices and governments to strengthen legislation that protects workers, including on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence.

“Oxfam will continue to challenge the barriers to a decent life for the millions who produce our food.”

Oxfam said Tesco is the “clear front-runner” on gender equality after scoring 76% for its gender strategy. Sainsbury’s and Lidl ranked joint second with 48%, followed by Aldi (40%), Morrisons (25%), while Asda only managed a score of 5%. 

Oxfam praised Tesco’s “ground-breaking agreement” with the global federation of trade unions, the IUF, focusing on the process workers use to raise issues, complaints and concerns about things that negatively affect them at work, as well as increasing women’s voices and representation in the workplace.

Oxfam also noted Tesco is also the only supermarket in the league table that has started disclosing detailed data on women for some of its supply chains down to farm level.

Oxfam said efforts to tackle low wages within supply chains were “promising”, with Tesco embedding the living wage commitment into its purchasing practice in the banana sector, and Aldi and Lidl participating in the German Living Wage and Income Initiative. 

Asda said its low ranking was because it was first time it has been assessed as an independent company, having previously been owned by Walmart. 

An Asda spokesperson said: “Asda was part of Walmart’s responsible sourcing programme for over 20-years and is in the process of establishing its own standalone programme following a change in ownership in June 2021. 
“Our ranking in this year’s survey is due to the transition between these two programmes and is not a reflection of our ongoing commitment to protecting the rights and treatment of the people who work within our supply chain. We have spoken regularly with Oxfam in recent months to update them on our plans and we are grateful for their feedback which is helping shape our Responsible Sourcing programme going forward.”

An Asda spokesperson said: “Asda was part of Walmart’s responsible sourcing programme for over 20 years and is in the process of establishing its own standalone programme following a change in ownership in June 2021.

“Our ranking in this year’s survey is due to the transition between these two programmes and is not a reflection of our ongoing commitment to protecting the rights and treatment of the people who work within our supply chain.

“We have spoken regularly with Oxfam in recent months to update them on our plans and we are grateful for their feedback which is helping shape our Responsible Sourcing programme going forward.”

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