It is encouraging to see that ETI membership continues to mean something when it comes to the rankings of supermarkets by policies and practices. ETI members hold 5 of the top 6 places in this league table of 16 and Tesco continues to be the benchmark against which to measure others.
In contrast to the top few, it is quite shocking to see just how poorly some other supermarkets compare – even though they now know exactly how this data will be shared. Good practice may be challenging, but having policies that respect workers is fundamental to the integrity of a company – isn’t it?
The current Covid-19 pandemic has asked questions of all supermarkets. Do they stick to their principles even when times get tough, or are principles, supporting polices and practices an optional extra? The top supermarkets appear to be holding firm at this time and so it would seem that there can be no excuse for not getting and then holding on to these principles.
The ETI Food, Farming and Fisheries team has seen a wealth of member activity directed at additional support for suppliers and their workers in the food sector in particular. This should be expected, but it is reassuring to see this also demonstrated in practice. Not to say that some suppliers – such as cut flowers and some prepared fresh produce – have not suffered. But we have seen intense activity to communicate with suppliers, understand their challenges and to provide at the very least advice and guidance and in some cases material benefits, to help get through this.
Behind the Barcodes doesn't rank every UK supermarket. Some ETI members who don't appear here (such as M&S, Waitrose, and Coop) might also rank favourably if their work in these key areas was measured. ETI is developing its own public report on member performance, which we expect to enhance Oxfam's scrutiny and help us to more fully track progress and hold retailers to account.
But why do we not see more supermarkets’ clustering around the Tesco and Sainsburys level – given it is clearly achievable? Do others’ business models make such policy guarantees to suppliers and their workers harder? Do investors threaten action if companies appear to soften towards business partners and their employees? Do customers boycott stores if (marginally higher) prices reflect the costs of fair treatment for suppliers and their workers? Certainly, ETI does not encourage policies on their own and these must absolutely be translated into meaningful actions on the ground.
A final reflection on smallholders and workers. In a week when we have heard that Nestle is abandoning their commitment to Fairtrade smallholders, it is interesting to see that while there is some improvement at the top of these tables, there is still a terrible lack of respect and support shown for smallholders and workers in the lower half.
How hard can this be? Do profits collapse if farmers are guaranteed a fair price for their crop and if workers are allowed to earn a living wage (that pays for a home, schooling for the kids, medical care, food and a life beyond the workplace)?