Week of 22 June 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing and in some cases deepening systemic inequalities in global economies, particularly for low-wage essential workers at the frontlines; U.S. supermarket companies are viewed as failing to protect their vulnerable workers at a time of heightened risk and insecurity and are being asked to strengthen their policies (Oxfam)
Aid and development charity Oxfam analyzed the employment policies of five U.S. grocery chains (Albertson’s/Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Walmart and Whole Foods/Amazon) to assess how well they have protected their workers during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Oxfam focuses on the supermarkets’ approach to five areas in particular: (1) paid sick leave, (2) provision of protective gear, (3) hazard pay, (4) engagement with trade unions and (5) dependent care.
- Oxfam found that, despite companies making improvements in some of their policies, there are still significant gaps in protections for frontline workers: “All supermarkets stepped up their policies on sick leave, hazard pay, and protective measures, but these steps have largely been insufficient. Of the companies we examined, Walmart, Costco, and Whole Foods/Amazon are falling especially short on directly engaging with their workers, an essential component to ensuring their safety.”
- The report states that, as more U.S. states loosen pandemic-related restrictions and begin re-opening stores, an estimated 100 supermarket workers have died as a result of the pandemic and that approximately 5,500 have tested positive for the virus. Nonetheless, “some companies are seeking to roll back key policies on hazard pay at a time when their essential workers need it most.”
- Oxfam reports that women employees and black employees are most at risk of experiencing the harmful impacts of companies’ policy decisions and calls on corporate leaders to take issues like gender, race, poverty and systemic racism and inequality into account when creating policies to protect workers and customers.
- In light of its findings, Oxfam urges supermarket companies to refocus their efforts and resources on protecting employees and customers and to “adopt a fundamentally new worker-focused corporate strategy that ensures workers can exercise their voice and influence decisions that impact and protect their lives, along with the health of their customer.” Oxfam is coordinating a consumer campaign collecting signatures to call on the US supermarket sector “to protect its workforce and reduce human rights risks.”