The many vices of European & US Supermarkets

European supermarkets have a huge role to play in the current climate crisis and in about everything a woke person stands for in this day and age. Why do we then find it so hard to keep away from our Albert Heijns, Aldis, and Lidls?

Oxfam has published a scorecard called #behindthebarcodes as a part of their fair shopping initiatives to let people know where some of our favorite supermarkets rank when it comes to exploitation. The performance is measure along four themes:

  • Transparency and Accountability – which suppliers they buy from
  • Workers’ rights – compensation and working conditions
  • Farmers’ rights – sources and trade relations
  • Women’s rights – labor practices and sourcing from women-owned businesses

It’s no surprise to find that almost all supermarkets have found to be performing poorly on this scorecard. While we conveniently switch loyalties based on the best prices offered to us, we forget to consider the people at whose expense we are buying these products: how the food was produced, under what conditions, and who was deprived of their basic rights and freedoms to get the food to us. Consider this man for example, who is two years from his retirement age and made only $100 a month at work due to his illness. These skin conditions are a result of the fertilizers being used on the farm.

I almost live isolated. I’m used to work. I now go from my house to the doctor and nothing else. I’m not going anywhere else. Most people are afraid of me. That’s why I stay at home.

It only takes a brief Google search to find several such stories. Supermarkets are also guilty of waste creation and plastic pollution that is not on this scorecard yet. If you were to take a holistic approach and consider the current trash situation, most of the waste created by Western markets ends up in areas developing countries where most of these laborers and farmers for supermarket suppliers live topic for another blogpost perhaps). Given all of this, what can we do apart from feeling guilty? It’s not always convenient or even possible to avoid supermarkets; there are many variables to consider while buying basic groceries such as information, time, availability of products, urgency of need, price and so on.

I highly recommend first reading the FAQs put together by Oxfam on conscious consumption in the context of supermarkets (use google Chrome to translate). Then, jot down your own priorities when it comes to buying groceries and determine what is most doable for you considering your personal circumstances. If you live in US or Europe, there is a good chance you’ll find a farmer’s market nearby, a zero waste shop, (even a Turkish/ Asian grocer) or an online supplier of locally sourced vegetables and fruits. It takes a bit of research initially – a few hours Googling on the weekend and perhaps a trip to a farmer’s market – but it’s well worth your time and effort. Once you’ve figured it out, don’t hesitate to share that information, you never know who might be looking for alternatives. Most importantly, show support to all those working on the frontlines: activists, journalists, your crazy friend or the Rebel neighbors, who work, volunteer, protest and lend their voices to these issues when we can’t find the time or energy to do so.


1 – Some of the pages I have linked to are in Dutch so you would need to use Google Chrome to translate.

2 – Reports for the US can be found here.

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