Comment: Supermarkets challenged to up their game on transparent and rights-respecting supply chains

In Oxfam’s supermarket check, the NGO recently assessed the publicly available policies and reported practices of some of the biggest supermarkets in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US. They particularly focused on what these policies and practices mean for the transparency of the companies’ supply chains, and for the workers, small-scale farmers and especially women working in them. The results have been presented in Oxfam’s Supermarkets Scorecard and will be monitored annually.
The scoring sets challenging benchmarks for the industry to move towards a transparent and more inclusive supply chain model. Achieving them will not be easy but offers a path for supermarkets to demonstrate their commitment to fairer, more sustainable supply chains.
The initial results indicate a noteworthy gap between current supermarkets’ disclosure on how they address issues such as workers’ and women’s rights and smallholder livelihoods and the increasing international expectations on companies. The companies assessed are hardly tracing and disclosing information about their supply chains and their respective human rights due diligence strategies.
My experience in the food industry taught me that it is fundamental that companies invest in the thorough integration of due diligence expectations into their internal management systems to move beyond an ad-hoc issue management approach. Once this journey is started – improvements can be achieved in a relatively short period of time as demonstrated by Oxfam’s previous ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign.

Retailers are well advised to embark on a similar path for more engagement across their value chain, using a risk-based approach to prioritize their actions, linking their approach powerfully to the SDGs and kicking off concrete processes towards more sustainable sourcing. The transformation of their supply chain strategies will allow companies not only to secure more reliable supply, maintain their social license to operate but also to better manage emerging legal requirements as set out in the German National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.