The assessment by the S Group and Oxfam was carried out at a tomato production area in Southern Italy. Agriculture in the area employs large numbers of migrant workers who are vulnerable to exploitation.
"We set out to determine the root causes behind human rights risks. The assessment revealed that workers are often recruited by illegal gangmasters who deduct considerable agency and transport charges from the workers' pay. The amount of pay that the workers actually receive is very small, which explains the poor housing conditions," explains Lea Rankinen, Senior Vice President for Corporate Responsibility at SOK.
In Southern Italy, the official recruitment channels are ineffective, which lowers the threshold of using illegal gangmasters.
"As our assessment shows, we don't have to travel very far to find human rights risks in food production. The working conditions of migrant workers, in particular, are terrible in many countries", Rankinen explains.
Solutions are sought through cooperation
Because of the problems discovered during the assessment, the S Group is applying for membership in the Italian tomatoes working group of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). The working group aims to improve the functioning of legal recruitment channels.
Because problems related to the recruitment of migrant workers are global, S Group wants to take a broad view on the locations and products that have problems affecting migrant workers, and on establishing what kind of initiatives exist to improve their working conditions and recruitment practices.
"The findings of the assessment give reason for great concern, and we want to highlight the situation of migrant workers through our influencing efforts both in Finland and at the EU level. We continue to look into problems in order to improve the working conditions of people behind the products we sell," Rankinen promises.
In global supply chains, it is important that all operators do their share to ensure responsible conduct at every stage of the supply chain. In addition to the above measures, the S-Group will include more specific conditions on human rights in its contracts and supports its suppliers' ability to ensure respect for human rights throughout the supply chain.