A lack of access to drinking water, acute pesticide poisoning, harassment of trade union representatives - these are just a few examples of massive labor rights violations on citrus farms in South Africa. The study by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the South African organization Khanyisa proves the need for an effective supply chain law. The producers studied also supply German supermarkets from Edeka, Rewe, Lidl and Netto.
"The supply chains are comparatively short and very traceable for German retailers," explains Benjamin Luig, author of the study. Due to their market power, the German supermarket groups would have strong opportunities to exert influence, but would use this solely in their favor. "Lidl, Rewe and Co. put suppliers under pressure through problematic trade practices such as short-term supply contracts and renegotiating prices. It would be better if they used their influence to push for the enforcement of workers* rights on farms," Luig said. Although German companies require South African producers to be certified with the SIZA (Sustainability Initiative of South Africa) social standard, this is not capable of enforcing applicable labor laws, he said.
"The list of labor rights violations on the farms is long," says Simphiwe Dada, director of the South African nongovernmental organization Khanyisa. "On one farm, workers do not receive their own copy of the labor contract. On another farm, an electrically charged gate prevents workers from leaving the farm at any time. On yet another farm, a union representative was recently fired on flimsy grounds." Of particular concern, he said, is the lack of access to clean drinking water, which has been massively exacerbated with the current water crisis in the Eastern Cape.
"The dire situation on citrus farms in South Africa exemplifies the conditions in many supply chains whose products reach German supermarkets," says Jan Urhahn, an agricultural expert at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. "If a whole range of highly dangerous pesticides are demonstrably used on a citrus farm and there are acute cases of poisoning among the workers and their families, then this affects the duty of care of German supermarket groups," Urhahn says. He points to the Supply Chain Act, which is currently being negotiated in the Bundestag and is very likely to be passed this week. "We see the South African citrus sector as a litmus test for the German supply chain law. This will show whether Lidl, Rewe and other corporations will be required to take responsibility for their supply chains and enforce basic labor rights. If not, the supply chain law will be a toothless tiger."
Between June and October, oranges, lemons and tangerines from South Africa fill supermarket shelves in Germany. With an export volume of 80,400 tons in 2020, South Africa is the second most important supplier of citrus fruits to the German market after Spain. The "Bitter Oranges" study examined living and working conditions at producers in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa who supply retail groups such as Edeka, Rewe and Lidl.
"Bitter Oranges. The export of citrus fruits from South Africa to Germany": The study is part of a series of publications by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which has already examined supply chains for tea and wine.
For more information:
Mobile: (WhatsApp): +27 79 63 89 97 6
or +49 176 70 61 03 81
Tel.: 030 44 31 04 48
Mobile: 0151 28 26 04 84