By John Otters
Early this morning, the Lidl Netherlands head office employees were welcomed by the Fairfood choir in front of their office in the historic fishing town of Huizen. The employees could hear classic songs like the Song of the Shrimp by Elvis Presley, the 1950s song ‘Shrimp boats’ and ‘The dock of the bay’ by Otis Redding with lyrics like “it’s two thousand miles I roamed, just to make this dock my home”. Fairfood organised this event to demonstrate against the terrible conditions we have found in Lidl’s supply chain of tropical shrimp and to ask Lidl to make sure the workers in shrimp exporting countries are paid a living wage.
The event was accompanied by the release of a report which reveals that Lidl has direct links to exploited workers in the Asian tropical shrimp supply chain, where many workers live on extremely low wages, and exploitation of migrant workers from Myanmar is rampant. You may have heard a lot about the problems faced by migrant workers on the fishing boats that catch the shrimp, but we also found serious breaches of human rights in shrimp processing plants in Thailand, where many workers are paid below the minimum wage, which itself does not constitute a living wage in Thailand. This is especially bad for migrant workers, who earn even lower wages than their Thai counterparts, and many have to pay unclear, and ever-changing ‘passport and visa fees’ to shady recruitment brokers, as a way to repay the costs of bringing them to the processing plants. Even though Lidl told Fairfood that the aim is to pay wages and other allowances that cover the cost of living, insofar as the statutory minimum wages are inadequate in this respect.
While the shrimp choir sang their gills out, Fairfood handed over a copy of the Thailand report to representatives from Lidl Netherlands and Lidl HQ in Germany, and demanded that they take their own commitments seriously by enforcing the payment of living wages in its supply chain. “We have come to Huizen, a wealthy town in the Netherlands, with its roots in the fishing industry, to highlight the stark difference between Lidl’s workers in Europe and those we have found in their supply chains”, said Wendy Schutte, Research and Advocacy Manager, Workers are trapped in a circle of extreme in-work poverty that resembles modern slavery. It is shocking to learn that Lidl are not more active in their supply chains to ensure that workers within it can afford a decent standard of living. It is unacceptable that poverty wages and the exploitation of a poor and vulnerable workforce are used to generate huge trade in Europe. Lidl needs to stop paying lip service, and start paying a living wage, starting within their tropical shrimp supply chains.”
Fairfood asks that Lidl pays a living wage to workers in its supply chains across all product lines by 2020, but given what we have found in Thailand, we are asking them to begin this practice with their shrimp suppliers. Because it is shocking that Lidl makes a huge profit (€48bn in sales in 2013), but are not able to pay a living wage to the people who shed blood, sweat and tears to get the shrimp to their supermarkets.
Lidl’s response to the action
Lidl responded to Fairfood’s action by stating that they agree that living wages are important, but that it is complicated to ensure that all workers in their supply chains are paid a living wage. Schutte recognises that the issue is indeed complex, ”But it seems that instead of taking steps to address living wage, Lidl is choosing not to act at all. And in fact, living on these poverty wages is much more complicated.”
You Can Help!
If you would like to see a fairer share for everyone that picks and packs our food, then please join with Fairfood to let Lidl know that this has to stop. Don’t worry, you don’t have to sing!
You can take the following steps to help the shrimp workers that supply Lidl, and ask them to pay a living wage: