EU looks at rules for protecting workers behind the barcodes

The European ministers meeting in Luxembourg are to formally approve new European rules that ban abusive trading practices by supermarkets and large buyers in the global food supply chain.

This could help transform an industry where exploitative practices are not unknown: From the demand for ever-cheaper produce to late payments or last-minute cancellations of orders, refusal to provide written contracts or charging unjustified fees for selling a producer’s product.

Tomato pickers from the region of Puglia in Southern Italy, including many migrant workers, told Oxfam that they start their days as early as 3:30 am and work up to 11 hours, often with little or no break. Their pay can be as low as €4.20 an hour. The tomatoes they pick end up on supermarket shelves across Europe, bought by consumers who have no idea they are contributing to the misery of workers in the EU.

In the wider Italian fruit and vegetable sector, Oxfam has reported practices of gender discrimination and sexual harassment and violence, where for example women may be paid 20–30% less than men for the same work and are much more likely to be subject to blackmail, in a system where gaining and maintaining employment may entail sexual exploitation and harassment.

These are not isolated examples; thousands of women and men working in farms and factories around the world have similar stories to tell about their work supplying the food retail industry, a sector worth trillions of dollars a year.



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