Our cooperation with Coop
The people behind the citrus fruits
Coop Sweden has been voted Sweden's most sustainable brand four times. At the same time, Coop is aware that there is a risk of human rights abuses in their supply chains. Inequality thrives in the global economy and harmful employment conditions are commonplace for millions of workers in food production. Coop's supply chains are no exception.
In 2020-2022, we conducted a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) of Coop's supply chain for Moroccan citrus fruits on behalf of Coop. The objectives of the HRIA were to review Coop's actual and potential human rights violations at the production stage of Moroccan citrus, to identify the root causes of the violations, and to provide recommendations to Coop on actions to address the identified violations.
The methodology used is in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Data was collected through literature reviews, internal Coop documents, interviews with 100 workers, a group discussion with women workers, and a roundtable discussion with government representatives, companies, trade unions, civil society organisations and other relevant stakeholders.
Coop's decision to commission Oxfam to carry out the review means that Coop is going beyond what Swedish legislation currently requires of the company. Coop is well aware of the limitations of social audits, and in its 2020 Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy said that Coop will go beyond audits through a series of initiatives in various supply chains, including this HRIA.
- Forced labour. The audit found strong evidence of slave-like work, where workers are dependent on so-called labour brokers. Workers are dependent on the intermediaries for their jobs, payment of wages and transport, giving the intermediaries considerable power over the workers. This makes workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. This meets the criteria for forced labour according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The audit also shows that many workers lack contracts and knowledge of their rights. The risk of forced labour was particularly high during the peak season when employers need staff most.
- Sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Female workers testify that they need to be prepared to be harassed at work, but because of fear of losing their jobs, being paid less or being ostracised by their bosses, they are afraid to report it. Gender discrimination also takes the form of lower pay and barriers to women's promotion and senior positions.
- Low and insecure wages. One third of workers are paid less than the national minimum wage. As a result, a high proportion of workers are unable to meet their basic needs. The lack of social security and formal contracts makes workers even more vulnerable. Many were dismissed without notice during the pandemic and did not receive any support from the state during the crisis.
- Health and safety risks. The audit found serious safety risks during transport to and from work, as well as a lack of personal protective equipment during work. Most people could not afford not to work even if they became ill or injured.
- Lack of effective legal assistance. Oxfam's audit shows that it is very difficult for workers to raise the alarm about abuses. Many lack knowledge about how to file a complaint and are afraid to do so.
- Unreasonably long working hours. Half of workers report having to work more than eight hours a day to meet their basic needs. The risk of long working hours is particularly high during the peak season.
It should be noted that the workers interviewed in the audit have not been confirmed as working in the Co-op supply chain. All are workers who may be part of the supply chain. However, there is no evidence to suggest that conditions in the particular Co-op supply chains are different from conditions in the region at large, and we therefore say that the majority of human rights impacts in Co-op's supply chains are potential risks that are highly likely. However, in the case of the lack of access to legal assistance, we can conclude that the risk is a real risk that exists within Coop's supply chains because of the lack of grievance mechanisms in both Coop and its subcontractors.
How does Coop contribute to risks of abuse?
According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies should review how their own practices and business activities contribute to the risk of human rights abuses by their suppliers. Oxfam's analysis shows that Coop contributes to much of the risk by, among other things:
- Paying a price for citrus fruit to producers that does not match the increased costs of production and wages to workers
- Setting consumer prices that do not take into account the costs of decent working conditions and production
- Changing suppliers frequently to find the best prices
- Coop's purchasing practices, which are mostly standard in the food sector, mean that Coop, along with other companies in the industry, puts cost and resource pressures on producers. This in turn increases the risk that producers will have to reduce their labour costs. The result is often low wages and harmful working conditions.
Analysis of the methods used by Coop to reduce risks
Oxfam has also analysed Coop's current work to identify and address potential negative human rights impacts. The analysis concludes that the methods used by Coop, such as social audits, have serious limitations. Certificates and Coop's new sustainability declaration also have limitations when it comes to social aspects such as human rights. Oxfam has further expressed its concern about the restructuring within Coop, which took place during the time of the Oxfam review, resulting in a downgrading of the social responsibility work in supply chains.
Oxfam's recommendations to Coop
To address the problems, Oxfam provides a series of recommendations that Coop and its suppliers can take in relation to their own policies and purchasing practices, as well as actions they can take to influence others to take action to reduce risks. At an overall level, Oxfam urges Coop to, among other things:
- Ensure that procurement practices do not contribute to increased risks of human rights abuses. One way to do this is to allow sustainability staff and buyers to work more closely together.
- Educate buyers to understand the impact of their purchasing practices, and give them explicit responsibility for ensuring that prices paid are sufficient to guarantee decent working conditions for suppliers.
- Introduce a public policy on human rights with concrete objectives and agreed by all staff and subcontractors.
Oxfam also provides recommendations to address the specific violations. Among other things, Coop should support the establishment of alternative recruitment models to prevent forced labour from occurring and establish a gender-sensitive complaints mechanism. This should be done with suppliers and organisations that women feel safe using.
During the course of Oxfam's audit, Coop decided to stop buying citrus fruits from Morocco. However, the findings of the report show shortcomings that extend beyond the supply chains for Moroccan citrus.
Coop has outlined the first steps it will take to comply with the recommendations made in this report. Among other things, Coop says it will set up a working group with its largest supplier of fruit and vegetables. In it, they will learn from the report and devise a joint action plan to - if possible - solve the problems identified in the report. Coop also says that it aims, together with others in the Swedish food industry, to implement possible solutions throughout the Swedish food industry.
By commissioning this audit, Coop has taken a first decisive step. Oxfam is now calling on Coop to develop a time-bound action plan, publicly available for accountability, to be published within six months. The action plan should include concrete actions that address Coop's own purchasing practices as well as advocate for broader systemic change. Only then can tangible progress be made for the people who produce our food.