Doughnut for the supermarket

Most large supermarket chains still do far too little to make their shelves sustainable, an annual survey of Oxfam Novib shows. The sustainability policy of supermarkets in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States were investigated during the research. In particular, the degree of transparency and accountability, and the treatment of workers, peasants and women were measured.

In the report ‘Ripe for change’ ,the organisation states that the largest supermarkets are partly to blame for keeping up the exploitation of workers at their suppliers in third world countries. “On our international ranking, all supermarkets score below par.”

“Supermarket chains realise billions of euros in revenues every year, but their focus is on making a profit for owners or shareholders and on extending their market share,” said Farah Karimi, general director of the Dutch Oxfam Novib branch.

“Twenty years ago, workers and small-scale farmers still received more than 10 cents of every euro that the consumer paid at the checkout. Now that is reduced to less than 8 cents per euro,” the organisation reported.

“Because supermarkets put pressure on suppliers, workers in developing countries are exploited. Supermarkets have the power and influence to change this,” said Karimi. “They all talk about sustainability, but their policies and practices do little to reflect that.”

Now that purchasing power has increased over the past few years, this would be a perfect time for the big supermarket chains to focus less on growth and more on sustainability. In her book ‘The Doughnut Economy’ , British economist Kate Raworth advocates for a new circular economy; the doughnut model. ‘Our economic activities shouldn’t follow a steep curve, but grow within limits, in an ideal circle. The economy should serve people and planet, not profit and growth. There are hard limits to what we can do to the planet,’ says Raworth. ‘When you start a company, you should be thinking and acting circular from day one. If you follow those rules as an entrepreneur, you can stay below that ecological ceiling of max. 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming and at the same time, you stay above the social limit of the minimum wage for workers.’

‘Citizens have had enough of politicians and policy-makers who spin that same neoliberal yarn over and over again. The call for new perspectives has never been greater among citizens.’

Raworth doesn’t only put her finger on the sore spot, but she also brings suggestions to the table: ‘Criticising what already exists is not enough, you also need to come up with alternatives. Hence my plea for interest free money, for complementary currencies, for the taxation of pollution, raw materials and land, for a basic income, for circular economies, for an alternative business model that does not revolve around maximizing shareholder value, for physical measurement units rather than the monetary measuring of GDP, for open access rather than private intellectual property rights. As far as that is concerned, we are living in a unique time. Never before has this much been on stake, and never before has our creativity soared as it does now. I am very optimistic about that.’


This post is also available in: Dutch

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