Does your supermarket food contain human suffering?
A Teaching and Learning Guide for Secondary Schools
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Behind the Barcodes
What goes into the food we buy?
Hidden behind many food products on our supermarket shelves is the suffering of millions of people working in unfair, unsafe environments-with women suffering the most.
Human suffering should never be an ingredient in the food we buy
No-one involved in growing, catching, and processing our food should be afraid, or struggle to feed their own families.
Learn about 'Behind the Barcodes'
We have the right to demand that everyone 'Behind the Barcodes' is treated fairly. By challenging the supermarkets this campaign could deliver a fairer share for the farmers, fishers and workers who supply their food.
The short global citizenship resource below is designed for teachers to use collaboratively with learners aged 11-18 in a variety of ways, for example as part of an Oxfam School Group. Navigate through the tabs to discover and work through the Think Boxes and worksheets.
A longer more in depth resource which addresses the ‘Global Food Challenge’ is available here.
This resource can be used during form time, Citizenship, PSHE, English (Persuasive Writing) and Geography lessons, or as a basis for the EPQ.
Take Action in School
Learn, about supermarket supply chains, think about how they can be improved, and (if inspired to do so), take action by getting in touch with a supermarket of choice.
Unless stated otherwise statistics are sourced from Oxfam's report 'Ripe for Change'.
If you would like some free Behind The Barcodes posters then please email email@example.com to request them (please specify the number you would like and your postal address)
Young people can work with teachers to decide if they would like to participate in the ideas for taking action that are described in Think Box 9.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines supply chains as 'the system of people and things that are involved in getting a product from the place where it is made to the person who buys it'.
Most of the food products we buy and eat every day have already been on a global voyage before they reach our kitchen cupboards.
Optional Activity idea: See lesson one in Oxfam Education’s ‘Find your Way Through Trade’ which involves exploring ‘The world in my shopping bag’.
As Martin Luther King Jr said: "Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half the world".
A woman in Assam, India plucking tea leaves. On her head she carries the basket in which she puts the leaves as she plucks them, as she tries to meet her target of 24 kilograms per day. Photo: Roanna Rahman/ Oxfam India
Think Box 1: Piece together a supply chain
Let's take sugar cane as an example. Looking at the diagram, can you identify where the following people would sit on the diagram of the supply chain?
Grace buys a bag of sugar to make a birthday cake for a friend.
Alejandra lives in a very rural part of Honduras. She farms a small plot of land, doing the planting, weeding and harvesting herself. Sugar cane is her main source of income.
Chris owns a company that buys large quantities of attractively packaged sugar, soft drinks, and sweets to sell through a network of stores in the UK.
Yasmina buys fine sugar from a factory. She uses it in the production of a range of baked goods, which she packages and sells to supermarkets, cafes, and restaurants.
Jose sells farmers and plantation owners the fertilisers and machinery needed for growing sugar cane.
Amit buys sugar from a shipping company and brings it to his factory. He has to first clean it to make a fine sugar. Amit then sells it on to other factories who produce soft drinks and sweets.
In a world with 7 billion food consumers and 1.5 billion food producers, no more than 500 companies control 70% of food choices.
What do you notice about the distribution of people on the supply chain?
If you were selling something at an auction would you prefer many potential buyers in the room or just a few? Why?
There are very few companies involved in getting food from the producer to the consumer. If you were a producer would you want a greater choice of companies to sell your produce to? Why?
Looking at the diagram, which people do YOU think hold the most power and why?
How much power do you think consumers have in global food supply chains?
Learn more about supply chains: From the fields of Morocco, to the shelves of a UK supermarket. Meet the people involved in the journey of a strawberry: Download session four of our 'Global Food Challenge' on the Oxfam Education Website.
Think Box 3: Discuss how money is shared within supply chains
Imagine a £20 basket of goods which includes orange juice, bananas, grapes, tomatoes, green beans, an avocado, teabags, rice, coffee, and some cacao powder.
Of this £20 how much do you think the supermarket should receive? Why? How much should the producer receive? Why?
Of this £20 how much do you think the supermarket and producers actually receive? Why?
Remember some money will also go to traders, processors and food companies.
Oxfam analysed how the money we pay for food is shared across the supply chains of the 10 products listed above. On average supermarkets would receive around £9.50 of your £20. Small-scale farmers and workers would receive on average around £1 of your £20.
And over the past few decades this imbalance has been getting worse. Farmers, fishers and processors have been getting less and less of the money we pay for food, while the supermarkets are getting more and more.
But why do you think it matters if producers of these goods are receiving such a small share of the money that we spend at the supermarket checkout?
The people who fish, farm and process the food we eat can face dangerous working conditions and poor pay. They often work long, hard hours in return for little pay. Women often suffer the most at work and are paid the least.
At Aldi’s pineapple supplier in Costa Rica, workers reported that highly toxic pesticides were sprayed while they were still in the fields. Workers at the site reported dizziness, vomiting and allergic skin reactions. One reported hospitalization as a result of pesticide poisoning.
Women prawn processors in Indonesia faced pregnancy testing as a condition of employment. There are known cases in Malaysia and Ecuador of women being asked to resign after becoming pregnant.
Sixty per cent of UK tinned tomatoes come from Italy. Often Illegal gang-masters can organise parts of the workforce (who are often migrants from Europe and Africa) through the use of threatening behaviour. Workers often work in sweltering greenhouses during the summer while inhaling toxic pesticides, and are exposed to severe cold weather during the winter.
At Lidl’s banana supplier in Ecuador, workers reported an atmosphere of fearand that when staff members tried to establish a union they were dismissed.
Workers and small-scale farmers in Indian tea, Kenyan green bean and Thai rice supply chains are earning barely half of what they need for a basic standard of living.
In South Africa, over 90% of surveyed women workers on grape farms reported not having enough to eat in the previous month. Nearly a third said that they or a family member had gone to bed hungry at least once in that time.
Robson and his wife work in several fruit packing houses in Brazil. Their low wages mean choosing between medicine for their children or eating. “For me [with a] family, wife and three kids, if one month a child of mine gets sick, we will go hungry – because I won’t let my son be sick.” Photo: Tatiana Cardeal/Oxfam
Think Box 6: Decent work
What is your dream job?
What does ‘decent work’ mean to you? Fair pay? A safe space to work in? Equal treatment whoever you are? Think about the question and make a list. Hint – for more ideas you could search for ‘The Decent Work Agenda’ which was created by the International Labour Organisation.
We have many quotes from farmers and processers describing their working conditions. Look at the quotes alongside your decent work list: How are the people quoted missing out on ‘decent work’? Now that you’ve seen these quotes, have you got more items to add to your decent work list?
Take a look at this scorecard which displays the results of an investigation into the UKs four biggest supermarkets – and its two fastest growing supermarkets. Oxfam examined these supermarkets’ websites, annual reports and other publicly available information. They were looking for any measures that the supermarkets had in place to ensure workers and farmers in their food supply chains were treated fairly. Oxfam then awarded the supermarket one point for each time they successfully met an indicator – there were 93 carefully developed indicators in total. The indicators related to good practice within four categories: 1) Transparency and accountability 2) Worker rights 3) Small-scale producers 4) Women.
And the results are in: No supermarket scored 100% - to gain 100% a supermarket would need to have met all of the leading international benchmarks – (which to be fair would be a considerable challenge). In fact no supermarket scored more than 38% overall. The scorecard was first published in 2018. It was updated in July 2019 and all supermarkets had significiantly improved their policies - and therefore their scores. When the scorecard is updated in 2020 we hope to see further improvements.
Take a look at the scorecard – who does best, who does worst? Does this surprise you? How does your family’s preferred supermarket score (If it appears on the scorecard)?
Do you find the scorecard useful? Does it tell you enough to help you to form an opinion of the supermarkets?
While these supermarkets can certainly improve their scores and make life better for food producers, Oxfam is not calling for anyone to stop buying certain products, or avoid certain supermarkets (also known as a boycott). This is because we believe it is far more effective for individuals to use their power as consumers to pressure companies to improve. Do you agree with this tactic?
Zooming in on worker rights
The women and men that produce our food are often trapped in poverty and unable to meet their basic living costs. Our research reveals cases of intimidation, and exploitation – particularly of women workers. Supermarkets could do more. By tightening up on their policies, they could have a positive impact on poverty, and the rights of food processors and farmers around the world.
Think Box 8: Send the supermarkets home with a report
Why should only students at school receive report cards? Fill out the blanks in this report card to show the supermarkets where they have room for improvement.
Supermarkets have significant power to improve the lives of millions of farmers and workers in their supply chains. And in the highly competitive supermarket sector, they want to keep their customers shopping with them. This means that customer’s opinions and actions – our opinions and actions – can have a big impact on the way that supermarkets do business.
We can use our influence to stand alongside farmers and workers across the world by campaigning for real change. We can ask supermarkets to do what they can to put a stop to the human suffering in their supply chains.
Think Box 9: Ideas for taking action
As a group discuss what you think about Behind the Barcodes and whether you want to add your voices to the campaign. It’s OK if you don’t want to – campaigning is not for everyone. If you do want to, then here are some action ideas:
Using your new-found knowledge of supermarket supply chains, develop a classroom workshop using Think Boxes 1-8 (if you are pushed for time skip Think Boxes 4, 5,and 7).
Tour the workshop around several classrooms yourselves, or engage teachers in delivering it.
Use this presentation to share information about Behind the Barcodes in an assembly or in the classroom.
Use your schools’ social media account(s) to tell people which supermarkets you have written to and why. Remember to tag any posts with the supermarkets’ social media handle and #behindthebarcodes
Take a photo with yourselves with your stack of report cards. Make a giant shopping list as a prop or stand outside a local supermarket for the photo. Send it to your local paper using the press release below.
Your giant shopping list could include a few food products and also the item 'No Human Suffering'. Please only include foods that are specifically highlighted in Oxfam's report: These are coffee, tea, cocoa, orange juice, bananas, grapes, green beans, tomatoes, avocados, rice, frozen prawns and canned tuna. Include the hashtag #BehindTheBarcodes so that your photo links clearly to the campaign.
Oxfam firmly believes that, within our lifetime, no-one will have to live in extreme poverty or work in inhumane conditions. But we can’t achieve this without building a better deal for the people producing our food. By working as one, learning, asking questions and by speaking up for what we believe in – together - we can really make change happen. Thank you.
If you like this resource, you can find a range of other related and more in-depth resources about the global food challenge here