Waitrose has for the first time produced a report into how to improve the lives of the women on its supply chain, pledging to fund programs from Ghana to Cambodia to combat inequality and hardship.
The retailer said it wants to “talk openly about issues” food producers face, and said that despite continued efforts to protect the welfare and wellbeing of workers, harassment, child slavery, and low pay still exist.
In its new report, Waitrose, and the John Lewis Partnership as a whole, highlighted the likes of discrimination against migrant strawberry pickers in southern Spain, sexual harassment in Egypt, and women’s land rights in Kenya.
Marija Rompani, the Partnership’s new director of ethics and sustainability, told i: “Women face so many difficulties around the world.
“There is systematic inequality. We’ve never been able to tie problems back to our suppliers but we do know these issues go on, and it’s important we tackle them and protect workers.
“We’re committed to improving the lives of women, and all people who work on our food chain”.
Ms Rompani said the report into women follows the Partnership’s work carried out by the Waitrose Foundation, which exists in communities to provide better opportunities for the workers who grow, pick, and pack the supermarket’s produce, as well as other products.
Ms Rompani said the retailer works with NGOs and the Fairtrade Foundation to create more sustainable trade around the world.
She added: “In Colombia, we have been developing a training school for coffee producers to improve the coffee and therefore improve its value.
“It provides education and means higher prices are sustainable long-term.
“It is very difficult to completely eradicate child slavery. It can’t just be about raising wages. In some countries, we’ve seen that doing that means parents feel they have to take their children out of school to send them to work.”
Waitrose sources a lot of its fresh produce and goods from South Africa, including Fairtrade wine, flowers, apples, grapes, and citrus fruits.
“There are also ongoing problems around safety, particularly for girls,” said Ms Rompani.
“In many countries, such as South Africa, parents have to go out to work, but might not be able to afford childcare.”
The report not only underlines the inherent dangers to women on the supply chain, but also sets out how the Partnership might tackle them.
In Cambodia, Waitrose said it has begun a dialogue with the Government in Phnom Penh to install street lights around clothing factories and set up company funded transport links.
In Kenya, which supplies French beans and other veg, Waitrose has been working with Farm Africa to establish worker committees.
Ms Rompani also said giving people “a voice” is a more decisive and progressive way to find solutions.
Tom Cadogan, from the charity, added: “Worker committees enable us to identify issues we might not know about.
“In Kenya, there are land-based issues. Accessing finance and funding is hard in some remote areas which may not have financial literacy. Providing training to help women rent land, for example, is invaluable because it promotes independence, safety, and stability.”