Oxfam has released a report saying that while supermarkets enjoyed a bumper pandemic 2020, food labourers were victims of "modern slavery."
Entitled "Pandemic profiteers and virus losers," the report examined working conditions on tea plantations in the Assam state in India, as well as coffee plantations in Brazil, grape fields in South Africa and in the fishing industry in Thailand. All four countries showed "exploitation and shocking cases of modern slave labour."
Supermarket chains experienced a "boom in sales" in the pandemic year of 2020 while producers in many poorer countries lost their jobs, worked in slave-like conditions and were inadequately protected from the coronavirus, Oxfam said.
"While the supermarket chains were cashing in, the workers who produce our food are fighting for their livelihoods," wrote Tim Zahn and Annika Zieske, authors of the report.
Oxfam cited extreme physical labour without running water and a lack of protection against pesticides and COVID-19 among coffee plantation workers in Brazil. The pandemic was hitting women particularly hard, the report highlighted. Female workers were dismissed more often than the average worker and had to shoulder most of the additional nursing and care work.
The situation looked very different for German supermarkets. Oxfam found that their sales went up to 17% in 2020 and that the assets of their owners grew by up to 30%.
"The pandemic profits of the owners of Aldi Süd alone would have been enough to pay the living wages of around 4 million workers in the Brazilian coffee sector," the report said.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, "workers who make the food get less and less of the price of the products on sale in the supermarket," Oxfam said.
Oxfam found that in South Africa, for example, workers received only 1% percent of the sales price of the grapes they produce.