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New Oxfam report finds sexual harassment, forced labour and low wages behind citrus fruit sold in Sweden

20 April 2022

Today Oxfam Sweden publishes a report showing that behind the citrus fruits sold in Sweden, there are widespread human rights violations against those who grow the fruits in Morocco. Around 100 workers have testified about sexual harassment against women, forced labour and low wages, among other things. The report was commissioned by Coop Sweden, and Oxfam is now demanding that Coop take greater responsibility to ensure that violations do not occur in their supply chain.

Women selecting and preparing mandarins for export, Morocco. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo.

The report examined on the ground in Morocco the potential and actual human rights violations faced by workers. The findings are striking: there are strong indications that work in slave-like conditions is taking place; that many workers lack knowledge of their rights; that over half need to work more than eight hours a day to meet their basic needs due to low wages; that female workers testify that they expect to be sexually harassed at work.

Oxfam has also analysed how Coop's own activities contribute to the risks of violations and makes recommendations to the company. Coop and other companies in the sector often contribute to a negative impact on human rights through their purchasing processes. Among other things, price pressure is a major problem, with food chains characterised by it not being able to cover the actual costs involved in guaranteeing living wages and good working conditions for workers. 

Oxfam kräver nu att Coop tar ett större ansvar för att kränkningar inte ska ske.

Det var ett bra första steg att Coop Sverige gav Oxfam uppdraget att göra den här rapporten. Vi förväntar oss att de genast följer upp med en tidsbunden handlingsplan. Coop Sverige har fyra gånger röstats fram som Sveriges mest hållbara märke av sina kunder, det är något som borde förplikta dem att agera.

Hanna Nelson, policychef Oxfam Sverige

The action plan must include concrete measures resulting in real progress and results for workers. Among other things, Coop should review its own purchasing processes and ensure that they do not contribute to risks. 

During the course of the audit, Coop stopped buying citrus fruit from Morocco, but the report shows that the shortcomings identified are not limited to one supply chain, and human rights abuses are a problem faced by the entire food industry. Therefore, Coop, and other food companies, need to take greater responsibility to bring about the systemic change that is required: 

Svenska företag kan inte begränsa sitt hållbarhetsarbete till klimat- och miljöfrågor. Sociala och ekonomiska frågor måste prioriteras. Det som görs idag är långt ifrån tillräckliga för att garantera mänskliga rättigheter. Resultatet är ett utbrett lidande bland de människor som producerar mat till butiker runt om i världen.

Hanna Nelson, policychef Oxfam Sverige

About the report
The methodology used in the report is in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which call on companies to avoid human rights abuses and to address negative human rights impacts with which they are involved. The report has used a range of methods: interviews with workers, group discussion with women workers, roundtable discussions with companies, trade unions, civil society organisations and government representatives.

The report highlights possible serious human rights violations:

  • Forced labour
  • Sexual harassment and gender discrimination
  • Low and precarious wages
  • Health and safety risks
  • Restrictions on freedom of association
  • Lack of effective legal assistance
  • Unreasonably long working days

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.