Skip to main content

Supermarket Supply Chains: Human Rights

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2019

4. What recent assessment his Department has made of the prevalence of human and labour rights abuses in the global supply chains of UK supermarkets. (909144)

The retail sector is the UK’s largest private sector employer and recognises that it has a responsibility for this issue, and it is pioneering responsible sourcing practices. The Government welcome campaigns such as the British Retail Consortium’s “Better Retail Better World” and Oxfam’s “Behind the Barcodes”. The Government remain determined to eliminate exploitation, and the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 increases specialist support for victims and places requirements on businesses to be transparent about their supply chains.

I secured a debate last year on this issue, highlighting the shocking extent of modern slavery in our supermarket supply chain. Will the Minister tell me what action has been taken since then?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this question and for giving us an opportunity to talk about this matter. The retail sector regards human rights and supporting sustainable markets as fundamental principles within its psyche. The British Retail Consortium has played a pivotal role, and it was a founder member of the “Stronger Together” scheme. Under the Modern Slavery Act, there is a duty on employers to submit modern slavery statements, and they should be doing so by the end of March.

May I invite my hon. Friend to meet Sir Charlie Mayfield, who is the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, which of course includes Waitrose? She will know that it has an audit trail to ensure that all its goods are produced ethically. When can she meet him?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and say that we meet Sir Charlie Mayfield regularly. This gives us a great opportunity to highlight the fact that there are thousands of businesses really stepping up to the mark on this issue. ASOS and Co-op are leading the way on transparency, and are identifying risks and taking action. M&S, Unilever and Tesco are also signing up to the employers’ pay principles.

We all want to be able to buy food in the supermarkets without trampling on the human rights of the people who produced it. Yet less than half of all agricultural companies are complying with their requirements under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, so what changes will the Government make to ensure that companies properly report what they are doing to tackle problems with human rights in their supply chains?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Home Office has written to more than 17,000 businesses reminding them of their obligations to submit their modern slavery statements. We are committed to the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, a UN initiative, and we are proud to be the first country to have an action plan in place, but, as with all these things, we will continue to keep them under monitoring.

In my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, I am aware that Guinness Nigeria is being sold by Tesco. Is the Minister aware that Diageo and other companies in Nigeria have pledged to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains?

I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion. He is quite right. That is just another example of where the sector, working with Government, is taking action to stamp out these practices where they identify them and telling us how they are taking action to eradicate them.