Change The Rules!

In November 1996 Christan Aid launched its new campaign, entitled Change the Rules. These rules are the unjust ones that at the moment govern world trade and finance, favouring the rich countries at the expense of the poorer ones. To coincide with the launch, the charity published a report entitled The Global Supermarket.

Report Summary

The major supermarkets dominate the British retail food market. An increasing number of the products they sell are from developing countries. Selling food for export provides an important source of revenue, but working conditions are often poor and the share of the price going to producers low.
Christian Aid investigators traced a range of own-brand foods from our supermarket shelves to the farms and plantations where they are produced overseas. Punishing working conditions, pesticide abuses, low wages and discrimination were found to be common.
Supermarkets could guarantee better conditions for people producing their own-brand products. As major economic players they have the money, muscle and mechanisms to do it. Already other big businesses have taken positive measures showing it can be done.
Christian Aid is calling on supermarkets to adopt a code of conduct guaranteeing decent minimum standards by the year 2000 and to provide for independent monitoring.

Key Facts

When we arise in the morning... at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to more than half the world.
– Martin Luther King.

The top ten British supermarkets have an annual turnover equal to the income of the world’s poorest 35 countries.
Over a quarter of our imported food and drink comes from third world countries. Between 1970 and 1994 food exports from the developing world increased over sevenfold – from $16 billion to $117 billion.
There are nearly 1.1 billion workers in agricultural production worldwide. Nearly half are in wage labour.
Sainsbury uses 6,000 suppliers around the world and Tesco sources from over 60 countries.
The average family spends 50 per week on food, adding up to a huge 43 billion spent per year.
Of all food bought 85% is p urchased in supermarkets.
There are 30 different supermarkets. The top ten chains have 4,621 stores and control 64% of supermarket business.

Case Studies

Christian Aid’s research revealed a wide range of unacceptable conditions among workers producing food for British consumption:
Degrading and dangerous working conditions.
Random sacking.
Pesticide abuse.
Low pay.

Asparagus from Peru
Workers suffer low pay, job insecurity, poor respect of basic rights and blacklisting if they complain.

Coffee from Brazil
Harassment and blacklisting of trade union members coupled with insecure seasonal employment make life hard for plantation workers.

Grapes from Brazil
Women workers face exposure to hazardous chemicals, bullying and harassment; there is a lack of safe drinking water, and dangerous work transport.

Pineapples from the Dominican Republic
Low pay, harsh working conditions, poor health care and exposure to pesticides are common.

Fruit from South Africa
Conditions for workers in the deciduous fruit industry (apples, pears, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and grapes) range from the most progressive to some of the worst remnants of apartheid. Low salaries, unfair dismissal, housing problems and opposition to unions are everyday issues.

Prawns from Thailand
Production leads to environmental damage, contaminated drinking water and threatened livelihoods for small fishing communities.

What Christian Aid Wants

Christian Aid wants to establish a Supermarket Charter for the Third World. It wants all major supermarkets to:
Adopt a set of ethical principles for their Third World purchasing;
Implement a code of conduct for all overseas suppliers of own‑brand products by the year 2000;
Agree to independent monitoring of adherence to the code.

Can The Supermarkets Afford It?

Supermarkets: Daily Pre‑Tax Profit 1995-6 :
Sainsbury PLC 1 ‑ 95 million (Incl. Savacentre & Homebase)
Tesco PLC 1 ‑ 84 million
Argyll Group 1 ‑ 17 million (Incl. Safeway, Presto)
Asda Group 0 ‑ 85 million

The average fruit farm worker in South Africa or pineapple worker in the Dominican Republic would take over 15 centuries to earn the annual salary of Tesco’s Chief Executive (1,194,000 excluding pension contributions and share options).

Where Do I Come In?
We are all shoppers and it is up to us to get the rules changed. Christian Aid is asking supporters to put pressure on their local supermarkets by handing over their till receipts together with a message to supermarket managers asking them to give a better deal to Third World producers.

Write or telephone:
The Reverend Jeff Williams, Director,
Christian Aid/Cymorth Cristnogol,
27 Church Road,
Cardiff CF14 2DX,
(00 44 2920 614435).

Reprinted in The Green Dragon No 2, Spring, 1997.