Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

By Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam EU Economic Justice Policy Lead

Right now, European supermarkets are using their huge purchasing power to squeeze their food suppliers through a range of unfair trading practices, such as late payments or last-minute cancellations of orders. These practices lead to poor working conditions and even human rights abuses for the people who produce our food, both in Europe and in developing countries.

The EU has already taken a first step to end the suffering of those who produce and process our food, by proposing a ban on unfair trading practices. This would help get a fairer deal for small farmers and workers who are struggling to make ends meet.

The proposal now needs to go through the European Parliament. Last week, MEPs in the Environment committee voted to remove protection for food producers outside the EU. Today, it was up to the members of the development committee and the internal market committee to decide.

What exactly did they vote for?

  • Both committees voted in favour of protecting food suppliers irrespective of whether they are based inside or outside the EU.
  • The internal market committee also voted in favour of protecting suppliers irrespective of their size and of applying the ban on unfair trading practices to all large buyers irrespective of their place of establishment if the food is intended for the EU market.
  • Both committees voted in favour of extending the right to complain to civil society organisations with previous experience and expertise working in food supply chains. This is important for vulnerable actors, particularly in developing countries, that may lack the capacity to complain and fear retribution from retailers.
  • The internal market committee voted in favour of a European network to ensure better coordination between national authorities in charge of enforcing the ban and to better tackle cross-border UTPs.

A chance to make a difference

At Oxfam, we welcome that MEPs have today called to protect food producers inside and outside of the EU. Importantly, they also voted to tackle the ‘fear factor’ which often prevents suppliers from seeking redress. It would be a big help for food producers in developing countries, if civil society organisations are allowed to support them by submitting complaints on their behalf to enforcement authorities

We are now looking towards the next key vote in the Parliament in a week’s time: members of the agriculture committee, which is leading the European Parliament’s work on the legislative proposal, must also choose to protect the millions of women and men in developing countries who produce our food. These people are trapped in poverty despite billion-dollar profits in the food industry.

By the way, Oxfam has recently launched the ‘Behind the Barcodes’ campaign to urge supermarkets and governments to crack down on inhumane working conditions, increase transparency about where our food comes from, tackle discrimination against women, and ensure a larger share of what consumers spend on food reaches the people who produce it.

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