The first step is the hardest: Dutch supermarket Jumbo moves in right direction

The first step is the hardest: Dutch supermarket Jumbo moves in right direction on human rights

By Anouk Franck, Business and Human Rights expert at Oxfam Novib - Just over a month after Albert Heijn published its human rights policy early February, Jumbo took the same step, in line with Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes campaign recommendations. This is good news because together the two supermarkets hold 54% of the market share in the Netherlands. This blog explains why this is a meaningful first step for Jumbo, what the new policy entails, what are the next steps Jumbo needs to take, and why other supermarkets who are lagging behind can and should follow this example.

A meaningful step for Jumbo

Oxfam’s Behind the Barcode campaign, launched in June 2018, revealed that supermarkets in global food chains have become increasingly powerful. They are capturing an increasing share of the end-price that the consumer pays at the counter, while farmers and workers in developing countries get less and less. At the same time supermarkets in the Netherlands and worldwide are not doing enough to meet their international human rights obligations despite recognition of the critical role of business, as set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) adopted in 2011.

What is the significance for Oxfam of a supermarket like Jumbo making these new commitments? First, although Jumbo mainly operates in the Netherlands, it sells products sourced from countries around the world, meaning that its business policies and practices have impacts beyond the Netherlands and across the world. In addition, Jumbo’s expansion plans look set to increase its future influence and impacts both in the Netherlands and beyond. Jumbo’s CEO stated that he envisions that Jumbo will increase its market share in the Netherlands from 20 to 25% over the next five years, and Jumbo is entering the Belgian market, where it will compete with supermarket chain Colruyt, another low price supermarket.                                                        

Jumbo’s human rights policy in a nutshell

At first glance, there are strong similarities between Albert Heijn’s and Jumbo’s new policies.[1] Jumbo’s commitments are particularly important because the company has a poor track record of engaging on the issues at the heart of Oxfam’s campaign and is starting from a low base of understanding about the issues and how to undertake due diligence. In contrast, Albert Heijn, through its parent company AD, has more experience and understanding of the issues, for example, through its participation in initiatives focusing on labour rights issues. In this context, you could argue that Jumbo’s commitments could be seen as even more courageous than Albert Heijn’s. So what do they entail? 

Jumbo’s commitments include a clearly articulated due diligence process aligned with the UNGPs, and a commitment to perform its first human rights impact assessment (HRIA) in 2019, followed by three further HRIAs annually from 2020 onwards. Jumbo will publicly report the results and progress of these investigations. As part of the assessments, Jumbo will specifically assess the situation of women in their supply chains, conditions of workers in their supply chains, and the wages and incomes of workers and farmers in their supply chains vis-à-vis living wages and incomes. Jumbo will also set up a complaints mechanism in line with the UNGPs, so that farmers or workers who produce food in their global supply chains can report complaints about their working conditions or wages and so that their grievances can be addressed. 

Just like Albert Heijn, Jumbo has also made a commitment to greater supply chain transparency: before the end of 2020, Jumbo will publish a world map showing the names and locations of its suppliers, initially covering its private label products. Supply chain transparency enables greater accountability: the public availability of this information will enable external stakeholders, including workers and farmers in developing countries, to understand the composition of Jumbo’s value chains, which provides opportunities to raise and find solutions to human rights violations in the production of our food.

Jumbo’s human rights policy goes further than Albert Heijn’s in a number of areas: it explicitly promises to publish annual action plans indicating its human rights-related priorities, objectives and ambitions for the year ahead; it has also made an ambitious commitment to investigate the gap between current wages and living wages of workers in developing countries as part of all its HRIAs, and has committed to take action towards closing the gap if one exists.

Next steps for Jumbo

Jumbo's new policy is a good start, but is insufficient alone to directly change the lives of farmers and workers in developing countries. What is equally important is how Jumbo implements the policy, how it reports on progress, and how well it listens and responds to issues affecting workers and producers, for example, the women working in harsh conditions who peel the shrimp Jumbo sells for us to eat. As a supermarket that is coming new to these issues, Jumbo is likely to face many challenges along the way, and Oxfam will closely monitor developments during the implementation of Jumbo's new policy.

In particular, we will pay attention to a number of areas that, in Oxfam’s experience, are key to advancing labour rights in global value chains: collaboration with other stakeholders to consult with workers and producers; tackling forced labour; promoting freedom of association for workers; closing the living wage gap; and building internal capacity and expertise.

International guidelines such as the UNGPs point to the importance of consulting and informing workers and farmers involved in food value chains, either directly and/or through the trade unions and other organisations that represent them, at all stages of the due diligence process. We would like to see Jumbo step up efforts to actively participate in multi-stakeholder initiatives aimed at improving labour rights, with worker representation firmly entrenched within them. Such initiatives help supermarkets to deepen their understanding of the root causes of the problems and allow for cooperation with other parties to work on solutions to systemic issues. Albert Heijn, sometimes through its parent company Ahold Delhaize, is already actively participating in three multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Seafood Taskforce, and we welcome the commitment by Jumbo to become active in three labour-related MSIs before the end of 2020. 

ndustry, for example, is one of the worst violations of labour rights. Jumbo has stated that it will require its supplier contracts to prohibit workers paying their own recruitment fees, a practice that is often associated with forced labour. The Employer Pays Principle offers useful guidance: it states that no worker should pay for a job - the costs of recruitment should not be borne by the worker but by the employer. As well as focusing on the prevention of workers paying recruitment fees, the initiative focuses on developing a professional ethical recruitment industry, and establishing safe and secure recruitment corridors. It was initiated by the Institute for Human Rights and Business and is endorsed by the Consumer Goods Forum and by the Leadership Group on Responsible Recruitment, to which 20 companies have signed up including food brands and retailers. Jumbo should implement its forced labour commitment with reference to this standard of good practice.

The principle of freedom of association is at the core of the ILO’s values and enshrined in the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Workers who produce food for Jumbo suppliers have the right to join an independent trade union or workers’ association. Oxfam welcomes the important commitment Jumbo has made to enter into dialogue with local trade unions and to involving (local) trade unions and other stakeholders in its human rights assessments and broader due diligence processes. Jumbo must actively work and enter into meaningful dialogue with trade unions and workers associations’ to remove barriers to the freedom of association. Where necessary, Oxfam can help to connect Jumbo with local, regional or international trade unions with whom it can cooperate. 

The Behind the Barcodes campaign envisions that the workers who produce our food are able to earn a living wage – defined as “The remuneration received for a standard workweek by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family.”[2] The fact that Jumbo will include this in its investigations into specific high-risk food supply chains is important and very welcome, but risks being inconsistent with Jumbo’s continual marketing of low-cost groceries, via its “lowest price guarantee”. In its annual reports and action plans, in its discussions with trade unions and other stakeholders, in multi-stakeholder initiatives, we expect Jumbo to show how it critically examines its own purchasing practices to ensure that it shares sufficient value with suppliers to enable closing the living wage gap for all workers in its supply chains. 

For Jumbo to be able to deliver on its promises, it must invest in ensuring it has sufficient capacity and expertise internally. Where Albert Heijn has a team of human rights specialists, plus additional support from its parent company Ahold Delhaize, there are only one or two staff members working on human rights issues at Jumbo and they also have to serve a broader CSR agenda. Jumbo needs to demonstrate that it is prepared to invest in “walking the talk” when making bold commitments. It is concerning that there is only limited investment in staff capacity to address human rights issues in supply chains, especially in the context of Jumbo’s expansion plans. This in spite of the fact that considerable extra efforts will need to be put into the effective implementation of Jumbo’s new human rights policy.

Oxfam now expects action from Ahold Delhaize, Aldi, Lidl and PLUS

While Albert Heijn and Jumbo have made new commitments to take action on human rights, the other Dutch supermarkets that Oxfam Novib addresses in the Behind the Barcodes campaign are not yet there. Where the two Dutch market leaders are showing the way, Oxfam expects Aldi,[3] Lidl and PLUS to follow suit.

Oxfam is particularly disappointed by the missed opportunity that Ahold Delhaize, the parent company of Albert Heijn, did not make the same commitments as its subsidiary, Albert Heijn and now Jumbo. Ahold Delhaize operates globally, with a turnover four times greater than Albert Heijn. As such, it has the same – if not a greater - responsibility to respect human rights in its supply chains, given its bigger footprint.

Anouk Franck is policy advisor on Business and Human Rights at Oxfam Novib. In the context of Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes campaign, she negotiates with Dutch supermarkets including Jumbo to end exploitation in food supply chains.

Een Nederlandse versie van deze blog kun je hier lezen


[1] For an elaborate analysis of Albert Heijn’s human rights policy, see this blog


[3] Aldi in the Netherlands is a subsidiary of Aldi Nord


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