Supermarkets need to go further than saying 'we are investigating' abuse of workers
Supermarkets need to go further than saying 'we are investigating' abuse of workers
A view from Anthony Edwards

Supermarkets need to go further than saying 'we are investigating' abuse of workers

As Channel 4's expose into the dire working conditions of migrants packing fruit for supermarkets shows, retailers need to go further than "we are investigating",...

While doctors are always keen to tell us to get our 5-a-day, it’s unlikely that they’ll approve of how it’s seemingly getting supplied to us, given how far outside the Hippocratic Oath’s tenet of "do no harm" it apparently falls.

Not since the horsemeat scandal have supermarkets on our shores knocked the trust of the British public to such a degree. And it may take more than a full-page ad of apologetic-poetry for them to recover. On Monday night, Channel 4 News launched an exposé on the labour practices that secure the fruit and veg on our plates. It didn’t paint a pretty picture falling well outside the Ethical Trading Guidelines which all supermarkets claim to adhere to.

Whether it’s the environment, the livestock, or the supply chain that suffer, retailers have an obligation to act, and act decisively 

It’s commonplace for us as consumers to search out assurances of ethical practice through a Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance logo on a chocolate bar for instance. We celebrated mass-market Kit Kat for going all fair trade. We look for Red Tractors on our food to make sure that quality is guaranteed; Assured Food Standards have been maintained.

And we know, whether from Havas or other sources, that Brits are likely to reward and punish good or bad brand behaviour appropriately. They are likely to be more loyal to brands that behave ethically and responsibly, (even recommend them to friends), and more than two thirds "would stop buying a product if they learned its manufacture involved exploiting workers" according to the Walk Free Foundation. Earlier this year, we even passed the Modern Slavery Bill, making us the first country in Europe to officially legislate against the issue.

Taking action

The supermarkets need collectively go further than "we are investigating", to stamp out these practices through relationships with their suppliers. Aldi should be commended on its immediate suspension of orders from tarnished supplier and "acting with its wallet". Only through transparency with consumers can the retailers claim to be acting in the best interest of consumers/staff/suppliers.

Around the world, there are those setting an example of taking action against supply chain violations and acts that harm society. Supermarkets in Singapore have swiftly been pulling Indonesian paper products off the shelves believing the suppliers to be connected to Indonesia’s relentless slash-and-burn palm oil plantation policies – policies that come with the side effect of polluting much of South East Asia.

The British have had a rich history of companies like Cadbury and Rowntree championing workers’ rights and conditions

Whether it’s the environment, the livestock, or the supply chain that suffer, retailers have an obligation to act, and act decisively – for both moral and financial reasons, because today’s connected consumer will not put up with bullshit and hypocrisy. We live in an age where Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t just greenwashing or businesses dedicating a department to offset guilt.

It needs to be woven in the best practices within organisations. Good behaviour needs to be baked into their DNA. It can be no surprise to those involved that they’re losing customers who in turn are losing patience when claims are made contrary to facts exposed during investigations.

The British have had a rich history of companies like Cadbury and Rowntree championing workers’ rights and conditions, and so to stave the attack on the fabric of trust with consumers and establish that meaningful connection within people’s lives.

Don't see the supply chain as a potential problem, but an opportunity to demonstrate the quality and provenance of products. Transparency of this nature creates trust of course, but also great content for marketing. It's time for retailers to decide if they really want to regain trust and credibility. The price is total transparency. Recent events suggest it's a price worth paying.