The European Commission has defended claims that German supermarket chains bare some responsibility for alleged abuses of migrant workers in the country. (Photo by Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images)


European Commission defends supermarkets over migrant-worker abuse claims


The European Commission has rejected calls for German supermarket chains to bear some responsibility for alleged abuses of migrant workers in the country.

According to a recent report by NGO Oxfam Germany, migrant workers brought in to harvest asparagus and strawberries, for example, are regularly subjected to poor working conditions and unfair employment terms.

Writing in response to a parliamentary question, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders pushed back against suggestions  that the supermarket brands named in the report are in any way responsible for the conditions faced by migrants.

“The food supply-chain is complex and involves many operators,” he claimed.

“Thus, it cannot be assumed that retailers have a direct responsibility for unacceptable working conditions imposed by farmers on seasonal workers.”

Reynders added that the EU was currently considering a proposal that would further tighten due-diligence requirements in the agricultural sector, something he believes will help alleviate any alleged work-conditions issues.

“It would require large companies of the agri-food sector to address adverse impacts in their own operations, those of their subsidiaries and in their value chains, inside and outside the EU,” the Commissioner said.

In the Oxfam report, Germany’s largest supermarkets are named as “contributing to the plight” of migrant workers in the country, with the NGO blaming price wars waged by the retail giants for forcing farmers to use unethical cost-cutting measures to remain competitive.

“Supermarkets are putting brutal price-pressure on them,” said Tim Zahn, Oxfam Germany’s Global Supply Chain, Human Rights and Migration Officer.

He added that constant cost cutting had also resulted in smaller farmers in Germany being priced out of the market.

He went on to call for minimum pricing laws to be put in place to prevent further “abuses”.

“The supermarkets have been abdicating their responsibility here for years,” he claimed. “They must finally be persuaded to pay reasonable prices.”