European supermarkets need to use their market power to stop injustices in their supply chain

Close up of palm oil fruit bunch.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) says that store brands of European supermarkets have built up decisive market power and that they need to use that power to change global supply chains for the good.

The EEB is the largest European network of environmental organisations with 141 members in over 30 countries.

To make progress, the EEB organised a European retail roundtable with policymakers, retailers and CSO representatives on preventing adverse human rights and environmental impacts in the supply chain, as part of the SUPPLY CHA!NGE project.[1]

French MEP Pascal Durand, supported the success of the legally binding obligation for large companies in France to act with due diligence throughout their supply chains. The law on the corporate duty of vigilance, which was adopted in France after a long campaign carried by progressive MPs and civil society, is a promising solution that other countries could follow.

Eva Izquierdo, Global Policies Project Officer with the European Environmental Bureau says:

“Due diligence in global supply chains is particularly important in the agri-food industry. Food processors and retailers have benefited from globalisation but are continuously confronted with studies from civil society that reveal human rights violations and environmentally destructive practices in their supply chains – from orange plantations in Brazil to palm oil plantations in Indonesia.”

At the UN level, several states have asked for a legally binding treaty on Business and Human Rights.  Professor Surya Deva, who is serving as the Asia-Pacific representative of the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, argues at the European roundtable for retailers that “Global supply chains should be free from chains of bondage and exploitation. Both states and companies must take effective steps not only to weed out human rights abuses throughout supply chains but also redress such abuses which could not be prevented”.

In Europe, the European Council has asked the Commission in 2016 “to enhance the implementation of due diligence … and to achieve a global level playing field” while the European Parliament has recently adopted a report asking the EU and its Member States to “lay down clear rules setting out that companies established in their territory or under their jurisdiction must respect human rights throughout their operations, in every country and context in which they operate, and in relation to their business relationships, including outside the EU.”

Unfortunately, the European Commission so far sticks to weak voluntary CSR measures instead of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence.

Patrizia Heidegger, Director for Global Policies and Sustainability at the EEB argues:

“The EU and its Member States have to put in place clear rules for companies within their jurisdiction obliging them to respect human rights as well as environmental protection throughout their operations and value chains globally. The recent new legislation in France to establish mandatory due diligence for companies is a right step forward to more corporate justice. The European Commission needs to assure that companies can be held accountable while victims of abuses must be granted access to justice.”


Notes for editors

[1] The SUPPLY CHA!NGE project aims to improve labour conditions in countries of the global South and reduce environmental damage along the food supply chains. The project is especially targeting store brand food products sold in European supermarkets, striving to make them greener and fairer. See
[2] For pictures and tweets: #makesupermarketsfair

For more information:

Ian Carey, Communications Manager, European Environmental Bureau

+32 476 97 20 07