Poverty wages, extremely long working days, no permanent contracts and no trade union that can defend the interests of workers. That is the situation that SOMO found in 2011 among Peruvian mango producers supplying European supermarkets. More than two years later, Oxfam Germany went to the Peruvian mango fields and talked with mango pickers and packers of four companies. How are working conditions in the sector now?

For its research, Oxfam Germany interviewed workers of four companies: Camposol, Dominus, Peru Frut Tropical and Tropical Fruit Trading Peru. The findings of the study are similar to those of SOMO in 2011 (sector study and a Dutch case study). Wages are still below the subsistence level, working days are extremely long and employment is insecure. None of the workers interviewed is a member of a union. Workers who join a union run the risk of losing their job or not being hired again for the next harvest period.

Growing purchasing power

Oxfam Germany’s report analyses the purchasing practices of the five largest German supermarket chains that all sell Peruvian mangoes: Aldi, Edeka, Lidl, Metro and Rewe. These five chains together have a market share of 90 per cent. Because of their dominant position, the supermarkets are in a position to impose increasingly lower prices on food producers. This pressure is ultimately passed on to the workers at the beginning of the production chain. They work extremely long days in poor conditions and do not earn enough to live on. There are also concerns about the growing concentration of power in the hands of a small number of supermarket chains in other European countries, including the Netherlands. The German Federal Cartel Office has already started an investigation into the purchasing power of Germany’s largest supermarket chains. This investigation focuses on the consequences of the purchasing practices of these powerful players for smaller companies, suppliers and manufacturers. The first results are expected in late 2013.

Small steps forward

Has anything improved for Peruvian mango workers in the past two years? The report by Oxfam Germany shows some tentative positive signs. In Camposol, a company which was also investigated by SOMO, working days have become slightly shorter, from an average of eleven to ten hours a day. Also workers at Dominus indicate that the number of compulsory working hours has decreased in recent years. Days of fourteen hours are now the exception rather than the rule. In March, a round table meeting took place on working conditions in the Peruvian agricultural sector. Producers (including Camposol and Dominus), retailers, trade unions and civil society organisations discussed the main problems. The meeting was organised by the British organisation Ethical Trading Initiative and will be continued in the form of a multi-year programme.

Dutch supermarkets need to investigate supply chain

Currently, the Netherlands is the main importer of Peruvian mangoes. SOMO informed the five largest Dutch supermarket chains (Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Lidl Netherlands, Aldi Netherlands and Plus) about the new research and asked them if they purchase mangoes from the producers studied by Oxfam Germany. Albert Heijn and Lidl stated that they buy mangoes from Camposol. Plus said it does not buy mangoes from Peru. Jumbo said it does not purchase mangoes from the companies studied by Oxfam Germany. Aldi did not respond.

SOMO calls on Dutch supermarkets that sell mangoes from Peru to investigate whether violations of labour rights occur in their supply chain. If so, they should address these violations, for which involvement of local unions is essential. Supermarkets also need to ensure that their purchasing practices make it possible for their suppliers to provide good working conditions.