Our top 8 identified high risk areas

Human-Rights-Map-1008x567

We’re committed to protecting the rights of labourers in our supply chains around the world. After careful analysis, we’ve identified 8 key areas covering 17 countries where the risks are highest. Read more about how we identified these risk areas here and our collaborative engagement strategy to drive continuous improvements in working conditions in global supply chains with our suppliers here. We’ve set out what the issues are, the supply chain and products, and how we’re responding to the issues below.

1) Modern Slavery & Vulnerable Workers | UK | Fresh Produce and Protein

Identified industry issues

Produce and protein industries in the UK are mainly seasonal and attract a large number of migrant workers to low wage and unskilled work. The seasonal nature of the industries leads many companies to use third party labour providers to supply workers on a temporary basis. These issues are further exacerbated by the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit and uncertainty around labour supply. As it becomes increasingly difficult to find enough workers to fulfil orders, employers are at risk of using unethical labour providers who cut corners on proper recruitment processes, creating an increased risk of modern slavery. We know these issues exist but due to language barriers or fear of reprisal, workers are unlikely to voice any concerns about working conditions. According to the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), agriculture is among the worst sectors for modern slavery in the UK.

How Co-op is taking action

We are committed to eliminating modern slavery from our global supply chains, as identified in our priority labour rights risk areas which you can find more detail on here. We are one of the UK retailers leading the way to raise awareness and understanding of the issue among suppliers and through initiatives such as Stronger Together and Food Network for Ethical Trade.

  • Since 2010 we have run a series of UK regional forums to bring our suppliers together to discuss challenges and share good practice on tackling modern slavery, effectives workplace communication, addressing the impact of Brexit and Covid-19 and promoting diversity and inclusion.
  • We are a founder sponsor of Stronger Together, an alliance to reduce forced labour and human trafficking. Since 2013 we have actively supported the roll out of Stronger Together training and tools to all our suppliers with sites in the UK. An independent impact assessment in 2017 demonstrated the significant impact of Stronger Together in raising awareness of suppliers on modern slavery and building their capacity in identifying and tackling issues. Our key strategic suppliers report on their modern slavery prevention strategies through their annual ethical trade review meetings with Co-op, and through the Stronger Together Progress Reporting Tool
  • In 2017 we launched our Bright Future programme, which offers the opportunity of a paid work placement and a job in our food business to those who have been rescued from modern slavery. Read more about our advocacy work to improve victim support and our efforts to raise awareness of modern slavery in our Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement.
  • In 2018 we trained produce suppliers on the Fresh Produce Consortium temporary accommodation guidance, and worked collaboratively to develop e-learning tools for growers which were launched in April 2019.
  • We supported the development of the British Retail Consortium Modern Slavery Protocol to help drive consistent practice amongst retailers when handling cases of modern slavery.
  • In 2019 we launched a new toolkit at large-scale conference with M&S, Alliance HR and nGaje to spotlight issues of inclusion in multi-language workforces within food supply chains and provides practical guidance on how to manage this complex area and ensure effective communication.
  • We are sponsors of the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit, and in 2020 we were able to provide our suppliers with free access to the tool and unlimited training on a wide range of courses on topics such as embedding responsible recruitment practices and eliminate recruitment fees.
  • In response to Covid-19, in 2020 Co-op brought together a coalition of supermarkets and partners to provide a series of free webinars for suppliers. The webinars provided suppliers and workers globally with consistent guidance and support to help identify and manage the potential human rights impacts of Covid-19. We also supported the launch of FoodFarmHelp – a website providing guidance, tools and case studies to help business in the food, agriculture and horticulture industries to better manage Covid related risks during the winter period.
  • In 2020 we became a founder member of the Modern Slavery Intelligence Network – a non-profit collaboration between companies in the UK food sector. The Network aims to develop a structured intelligence-sharing mechanism between members, which will enhance our effectiveness in disrupting modern slavery and labour exploitation practices.
  • In 2020 we also joined Unseen’s Helpline Business Portal which gives us access to any reports of modern slavery or labour abuse within our operations and supply chains, as well as unique trend analysis. This partnership helps support the 24/7 operation of the independent Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, which provides a vital lifeline to those with nowhere else to turn and expert guidance to frontline professionals.
  • Beef, pork, lamb, eggs, chicken, turkey and milk and dairy have been identified as some of our 30 key ingredients where we focus actions to ensure our products are sourced as respnsibly as possible, protecting people and the planet. Read more here

Future priorities

We’ll continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have set out a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition to mitigate our risks.

2) Modern Slavery, Vulnerable Workers & Worker Voice | Indonesia, Thailand & Vietnam | Fish & Seafood

Identified industry issues

The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are over 1.2m modern slavery victims in Indonesia, 421,000 in Vietnam and 610,000 in Thailand. The problem is particularly bad in the fishing and seafood industry with systematic violations of rights and forced labour, made worse by the amount of migrant labour used. Additionally, each country also scores poorly on the ITUC Global Rights Index 2018, which measures access to trade union rights.

How Co-op is taking action

Through our participation in a range of collaborative initiatives and working groups we are actively addressing issues in seafood supply chains and have achieved a number of successful results:

  • Co-op has supported the multi-stakeholder ILO Good Labour Practices (GLP) programme since 2018. This comprehensive fisheries industry improvement programme combines industry labour guidelines with a good labour practices training programme. Special focus is given to unacceptable forms of work such as child labour and forced labour.
  • In April 2019, we signed the Environmental Justice Foundation’s Charter for Transparency, designed to help supermarkets ensure their seafood supply chains are free from illegal fishing and human rights abuse.
  • We are a founder member and sit on the steering committee of the Seafood Ethics Action Alliance (SEA Alliance). This industry alliance launched in 2018 aims to share information, best practice and provide a forum for collective action on ethical risks and social compliance issues related to wild capture fisheries. Amongst other activity in 2020, the group has carried out a top-level human rights risk assessment for fisheries supplying the Co-op and other SEA Alliance members. This has helped identify fisheries where there is potentially the greatest risk to workers, including risks of forced labour and human trafficking, and will inform future opportunities to undertake enhanced due diligence.
  • Co-op participates in the Seafish Ethical Common Language Group (SECLG) that brings together all sectors of the seafood supply chain to provide a collective response to unethical practices.
  • In 2020, we focused efforts on increasing transparency in our seafood supply chains beyond the first tier. In 2021, we are linking to these indirect sites on Sedex for greater visibility of potential risks and to work with suppliers on continuous improvements. We have also publicly shared our wild capture sources on the Oceans Disclosure Project since 2015 and our farmed fish sources since 2019.
  • We are supporters of the Responsible Fishing Vessel Scheme (RFVS), the next iteration of the Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) developed by industry. The RFVS is a voluntary vessel based programme certifying high standards of crew welfare and responsible catching practices which has been developed in partnership by Seafish and Global Seafood Assurances (GSA). We’re now working with our suppliers to implement the standard.
  • We continue to support industry advocacy efforts to improve human rights and working conditions in countries such as Thailand.
  • Salmon, tuna, white fish and warm and cold-water prawns have been identified as some of our 30 key ingredients where we focus actions to ensure our products are sourced as responsibly as possible, protecting people and the planet. Read more here

Future priorities

We will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we’ve set out a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition to mitigate our risks.

3) Modern Slavery & Vulnerable Workers | Spain | Fresh Produce

Identified industry issues

Agriculture in Spain relies on migrant and seasonal labour, with some found to be exploited. Workers - often from Morocco, North Africa or Eastern Europe - are economically vulnerable and often have little education or ability to speak the local language. Even if they’re paid appropriately, they may have paid an excessive fee to get the job from a recruiter in their home country, meaning they live in poverty whilst in Spain. Women are particularly likely to migrate to Spain for work and are especially vulnerable to exploitation due to social status and language barriers. Regulation and inspection of labour providers in the country is weak.

How Co-op is taking action

  • Since 2012 we’ve been running regular regional events in Spain to build the capacity of our suppliers to drive improvements in working conditions, as part of our global supplier engagement programme.
  • In 2019, Co-op worked collaboratively with other retailers and Stronger Together to develop a toolkit for suppliers in Spain to reduce the risk of modern slavery. Our continued support for Stronger Together Spain provides our suppliers with access to free and discounted places at workshops, workplace posters and leaflets. Key topics addressed in 2020 included preventing and tackling forced labour in Spanish horticulture.
  • We’ve supported the ETI human rights due diligence pilot project on agricultural supply chains in Spain. This collaborative project aims to improve business competence and capacity in Spain and in the UK in tackling serious human rights risks, in addition to providing examples for wider application across other sectors and in other countries.
  • Co-op has played a pivotal role in creating the [Spain Ethical Trade Forums] for suppliers, which now has the support of 9 supermarkets and many key produce importers. The forums are established in the regions of Murcia, Almeria and Huelva, and provide a safe space for suppliers to share experiences and good practices, discuss their challenges, and work collaboratively to improve working conditions. Responding to the impacts of Covid-19 was a priority for the forums in 2020. Outputs from the various working groups in 2020 include guides on Covid-19, anti-harassment and responsible use of agencies, as well as worker voice pilot surveys.
  • Berries and salads have been identified as some of our 30 key ingredients where we focus actions to ensure our products are sourced as responsibly as possible, protecting people and the planet. Read more here

Future priorities

We will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have committed to a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition.

4) Modern Slavery & Vulnerable Workers | Italy | Canned Tomatoes and Fresh Produce

Identified industry issues

Migration to Europe via the South of Italy has been increasing for 15 years. There are a number of ghetto camps of undocumented ‘illegal’ migrants in the Puglia growing region. Seasonal products that need to be cut or harvested by hand – such as tomatoes, asparagus and grapes – may use undocumented workers, and there is potential for exploitation of those workers either by the direct employer or those acting as an informal agent. Some agents form a ‘caporalato’ (or gangmaster) system - an illegal but entrenched way of recruiting, managing and, in many cases, heavily exploiting casual agricultural workers.

How Co-op is taking action

  • Co-op has led activity with our main supplier to facilitate engagement with UK and European retailers, Government, local NGOs, industry associations and the ETI, to address these issues. This collaborative approach led to a multi-stakeholder meeting in Salerno, Italy in 2017 and the formation of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) Italian Agriculture Working Group in October 2017, focused on driving collaborative action to improve conditions for migrant worker in Italian agriculture. In 2021 we are working with the ETI Italian Agriculture Working Group to develop a set of capacity building materials on good labour practices targeting cooperatives in partnership with a local consultant and producers.
  • We have advocated for change within Italy, and in 2018 presented at the British Embassy in Rome with government and industry representatives to promote an ethical approach in the supply chains to counter labour exploitation.
  • We‘ve contributed to reports on working conditions in the Italian agricultural industry supply chain and worked with our processing supplier to run supplier training sessions and forums in Puglia, for key co-operatives and grower associations.
  • Tomatoes have been identified as one of our 30 key ingredients where we focus actions to ensure our products are sourced as responsibly as possible, protecting people and the planet. Read more here

Future priorities

We will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and have set out a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition to mitigate our risks.

5) Vulnerable Workers & Worker Voice | Egypt & Morocco | Fresh Produce

Identified industry issues

There is a large proportion of women working in the mainly seasonal produce industry in Egypt and Morocco. In 2011, Oxfam identified issues with working practices for women workers in Morocco such as low wages, poor workplace and transport health and safety standards, and no access to social security payments. Gender-based violence has also been reported in the Moroccan produce industry, and in Egypt trade union rights are very weak as ranked by the ITUC Global Rights Index, and there are issues of exploitation of vulnerable workers, including children, especially on smaller farms.

How Co-op is taking action

  • Since 2010, Co-op has supported the Egyptian Supplier Ethical Trade Forum (ESET) where suppliers work together to improve working conditions in Egypt, specifically for those involved in casual labour. The forum has focused on sharing best practice and projects in health and safety, working with temporary workers and labour providers, womens’ empowerment and managing excessive working hours.
  • In 2012 the Co-op joined Oxfam, the ETI and other UK retailers to establish the Better Strawberries Group to review the risks identified in Moroccan produce and establish an action plan to address those risks. Initial priorities included helping women access statutory social security entitlements, obtain ID cards and receive the minimum wage. A travelling roadshow explained rights to female workers and their families and the standards they should expect at work. Seven years on, there have been significant improvements and Co-op works closely with suppliers and growers to continue to raise standards for workers in these supply chains.

Future priorities

We will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have committed to a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition.

6) Modern Slavery, Vulnerable Workers, Worker Voice & Smallholders | South Africa & Kenya | Fresh Produce, Flowers, Tea & Wine

Identified industry issues

The produce and wine industries in South Africa, which predominantly rely on migrant workers from Zimbabwe and Lesotho, have known issues of exploitation including low wages, long working hours, poor health and safety, and inferior accommodation. In the Kenyan produce sector, there are similar risks for low skilled, uneducated, often female workers. Whilst many improvements have been made, many issues remain due to workers’ lack of education and empowerment, with female workers particularly vulnerable. A distrust of trade unions among employers reduces the ability of workers to change their situation.

How Co-op is taking action

  • Co-op sits on the Global Steering Group of Stronger Together South Africa, which, together with WIETA and SIZA, works to support South African agri-businesses to address the risk of forced labour. It provides producers with specific guidance to deter, detect and deal with the issue.
  • We supported the development of SIZA (Sustainability Initiative of South Africa) and WIETA (Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trading Association) and continue to collaborate with these initiatives to improve standards.
  • In Kenya, we’ve trained all our growers to implement good working practices on their farms with issues such as excessive working hours, harassment and treatment of casual and seasonal worker covered.
  • We’ve invested with our supplier Flamingo Flowers to create better futures for children of Fairtrade flower workers in Naivasha, Kenya. In 2019 a school, which was then attended by 850 pupils aged 6 to 14, was identified as desperately needing essential repairs. In partnership with Co-op, the school has undergone transformation providing a much-improved learning environment for pupils and teachers. The renovation has benefitted the community and seen an increase in pupil enrolment at the school to 958, as well as improved attendance and learning outcomes. We’re proud to support this communities’ children in their education. You can find out more about case studies of Co-op Future of Food Sourcing Projects with Fairtrade producer communities in 2020 here.
  • In 2020 we responded to the challenges of the pandemic by supporting two projects through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility to help build resilience of workers in Africa to address the impact of Covid-19 flower and agriculture supply chains, in collaboration with the Fairtrade Foundation, the Ethical Trading Initiative and other retailers and suppliers. You can find out more about the project led by Fairtrade Foundation here and Ethical Trade Initiative here.
  • We also supported a collaborative research led by Partner Africa and &Wider which used Direct Worker Reporting to gain insights in to challenges faced by suppliers and workers in Africa during the pandemic. This research has improved our understanding of where support is most needed and will help inform future activity. To read the report please click here.
  • Flowers, tea and grapes and wine have been identified as some of our 30 key ingredients where we focus actions to ensure our products are sourced as responsibly as possible, protecting people and the planet. Read more here

Future priorities

We’ll continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and have set out a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition to mitigate our risks.

We’ll also improve the lives of workers and smallholders through our ongoing commitment to Fairtrade:

  • We’ll build on our Fairtrade leadership and continue to strengthen producer communities around the world.
  • Through our work with Fairtrade and other partners, we’ll continue to explore how to pass on a greater share of value in our food supply chain.

7) Vulnerable Workers & Worker Voice | China | Non-Food

Identified industry issues

Labour turnover and mobility in China is high in many sectors as a result of internal and annual migration. Migrant workers on precarious employment contracts are particularly vulnerable to working excessive hours with inadequate pay for overtime, and some vocational student internships programmes in factories are considered indistinguishable from slavery. There can also be discrimination between workers of different hukou status (China’s household registration system). Many workers do not receive their social security entitlements. And at a governmental and legislative level, freedom of association in China is extremely limited with no independent unions operating in the country. There is increasing concern for use of prison labour in Xinjiang and across China with reported links to the production of seasonal products and tomatoes.

How Co-op is taking action

  • Co-op is an active participant in the ETI China corporate caucus and we share knowledge with our suppliers on legislative changes around social security and workplace rights.
  • In 2020, we sponsored a webinar on ethical recruitment practices, specifically addressing the risks of forced labour in China. The webinar was delivered in Mandarin and reached our in-country agents, suppliers and site management teams. Following the webinar, we shared a practical guide on ethical recruitment practices and are working with our key suppliers to implement this best practice.
  • We’re working closely with our key suppliers to map high risk supply chains beyond first tier to gain further visibility of human rights risks in our supply chain.
  • We are working with key suppliers in China to deliver training on our ethical trade expectations and worker rights. Our focus for 2021 will be working with our suppliers to build capacity to address issues such as ethical recruitment and mitigating the risks of forced labour.

Future priorities

We will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have committed to a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition.

8) Vulnerable Workers, Worker Voice & Smallholders | Belize, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cote D'Ivoire, Dominican Republic & Peru | Cocoa, Bananas and Sugar

Identified industry issues

The countries where products are sourced from have limited local infrastructure such as labour inspectorates, education systems and functioning courts of law which increases the vulnerability of workers and smallholders involved. There are known issues of child labour in cocoa supply chains and issues of smallholder incomes in cocoa, sugar and bananas. Human rights issues can occur in smallholdings due to the informal and small-scale nature of the work, poor communication channels and the general lack of visibility in global supply chains.

How Co-op is taking action

Co-op is committed to Fairtrade across cocoa, sugar and bananas, supporting the launch of Fairtrade in the UK and, for 25 years, helping develop the market to become the world’s largest retailer of Fairtrade goods.

Cocoa:

  • In 2000 we worked with Divine and their partner co-operative Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana to bring the first Fairtrade own brand chocolate to market. We’ve continued to work with Kuapa and Divine ever since.
  • We're the only UK supermarket with a 100% Fairtrade chocolate confectionery range and all the cocoa we source benefits Fairtrade cocoa farmers. Sales support smallholder cocoa farmers in Peru, The Dominican Republic, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Find out more
  • In 2017 we became the first UK retailer to source all the cocoa used as an ingredient on Fairtrade terms.
  • In West Africa, as part of our commitment to Fairtrade cocoa, we have been investing in the funding of Fairtrade Africa’s Women’s Leadership School since 2017. The Leadership School is working with women from seven farmer groups in Cote D’Ivoire. The participants are trained in business skills such as decision making, managing resources, and leadership, so that they can go on to take up more important roles in their farmer organisations and communities. In 2020, 40 people (32 women and 8 men) from 7 Fairtrade cocoa co-operatives graduated from Year 2 of this pioneering programme. Find out more

Bananas:

  • In 2000, we put the UK's first Fairtrade bananas on our shelves and in 2012 we switched all our bananas to Fairtrade. We’ve also committed to supporting smallholders through our unique sourcing of 100% co-operative supply, with a minimum of 50% coming from smallholders.
  • We’ve been working with Chito’s co-operative, COOBANA since 2007, helping to bring them into the Fairtrade system. Fairtrade premiums improve members’ access to water, sanitation and housing. Find out more
  • In 2018, we committed that whenever Co-op uses bananas as an ingredient, Fairtrade producers will benefit.
  • In 2019, Co-op started contributing to a Productivity Increase Programme (PIP) which aims to improve soil health through organic production methods and the incorporation of micro-organisms and organic matter, which translates into higher fertility, a reduction of water and chemical use, increased resistance to pathogens, and ultimately higher banana farm productivity. We specifically support activities in five Small Producer Organisations in the Dominican Republic and the project has seen a lot of success. Find out more

Sugar:

  • We were the first retailer to sell Fairtrade sugar back in 2004 and converted our entire own brand range in 2008.
  • In 2016 we made a commitment that all the bagged sugar we sold would be Fairtrade certified to support small holder associations in lesser developed countries.
  • In Belize, members of co-operative BSCFA have been supported through agricultural training to improve their sugar crop and make their farms more resilient to climate change. Our commitment to Fairtrade sugar has bought back around £1million to sugar cane farmers in Belize. Find out more
  • We are supporting a new initiative in Belize to help cane farmers and workers to formalise their work by introducing an agreement between cane cutters and harvest group leaders. The project also promotes written contracts of employment and good labour practices through workshops and training. You can find out more about case studies of Co-op Future of Food Sourcing Projects with Fairtrade producer communities in 2020 here.
  • Bananas, cocoa and sugar have been identified as some of our 30 key ingredients where we focus actions to ensure our products are sourced as responsibly as possible, protecting people and the planet. Read more here

Future priorities

We will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and have committed to a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition. We’ll also improve the lives of workers and smallholders through our ongoing commitment to Fairtrade:

  • We’ll build on our Fairtrade leadership and continue to strengthen producer communities around the world.
  • Through our work with Fairtrade and other partners, we’ll continue to explore how to pass on a greater share of value in our food supply chain.