Is Edeka deceiving consumers with its sustainability seal?

Human rights violations in palm oil cultivation in Guatemala

Guatemala – Supermärkte – Supply chains

Palm oil cultivation in Guatemala is the source of severe problems, including environmental damage and human rights violations, especially for the indigenous population. The plantations concerned also supply to Germany, more specifically to a Walter Rau GmbH factory, where store brand products for the Edeka supermarket chain are produced. In spite of this, Edeka markets these products with the seal of the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Together with those affected and the consumer organization foodwatch, ECCHR warned Edeka by means of a complaint under the Unfair Competition Act (UWG) that it must remove the misleading RSPO label from its products. They are also demanding that the company investigate its indirect suppliers and take steps towards preventing human rights violations in its palm oil supply chain by lodging a complaint under the German Supply Chain Act.

Case

Research by ECCHR, foodwatch and a Guatemalan organization shows that there are routine violations of labor rights on palm oil plantations in Guatemala, including excessive working hours, inadequate wages and the hindering of efforts to form trade unions. Pesticides are also used on the plantations, which leads to pollution of the drinking water in neighboring communities. The company NaturAceites is the focus of the criticism. This company cultivates palm oil in monocultures on plantations whose land was traditionally used by the indigenous population. Our local partners have reported that demonstrations by the people against such land-grabbing have been violently suppressed by security forces.

Edeka sells products that are manufactured in the Walter Rau Lebensmittel GmbH factory in Hilter, such as “Die Leichte” low-fat margarine, along with vegetable oil, margarine and cream spread from Gut & Günstig. For years, this factory has sourced palm oil from Guatemalan plantations run by NaturAceites. Back in 2019, the supermarket chain learned of specific human rights violations committed by NaturAceites through research conducted by the Christian Initiative Romero (CIR). However, Edeka refused to improve the conditions in its supply chain. Together with foodwatch and in close collaboration with the affected communities, ECCHR submitted a complaint under the German Supply Chain Act to the corporation, which demands that Edeka uphold its human rights responsibilities within its palm oil supply chain. Edeka must verify whether the palm oil from Guatemala is actually processed in its products and then approach the identified suppliers to work towards ensuring that the lands of indigenous communities and basic labor rights are respected. If Edeka fails to comply with the request, the affected parties are entitled to assert their rights by lodging a complaint with the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA).

From the perspective of those affected and local partners, the RSPO seal has proven to be an inadequate means of preventing human rights violations and environmental destruction in the supply chain. The RSPO, which was introduced by the environmental organization WWF, has faced criticism for years: human rights organizations have repeatedly reported violations of labor and human rights standards by RSPO-certified companies, including in Guatemala. Edeka's use of the RSPO seal is also problematic from a consumer perspective: consumers are deceived by the label into believing they are buying a sustainable product. For this reason, ECCHR and foodwatch filed a lawsuit against Edeka at the Karlsruhe Regional Court for violation of the Unfair Competition Act and called on the supermarket to remove the misleading RSPO label from its products.

Context

Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable fat in the world and is contained in many of Edeka's food products. Germany is one of the most important importers of palm oil cultivated in Guatemala. Importation has experienced a veritable boom in recent years, which has led to high export figures but also severe social conflicts and environmental damage.

In October 2023, together with partner organizations ASTAC, Oxfam and Misereor, ECCHR filed a complaint with the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) against Rewe and Edeka, as the supermarket chains have thus far failed to take effective and appropriate steps to prevent human rights violations in their banana supply chains. It is not only in the food industry that European companies disregard human rights violations within their supplier operations: additional complaints concern the German car manufacturers BMW, VW and Mercedes, which use raw materials and components produced under forced labor, as well as the risky working conditions in the textile industry in Bangladesh, where serious safety deficiencies were found in the factories of Tom Tailor, Amazon and IKEA.

Documents (3)

Press (1)

Partners

Glossary (1)

Definition

Due diligence

Due diligence is a common concept in corporate risk management systems. The idea of corporate human rights due diligence (HRDD) is set out in the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. HRDD obligations refer to a company’s duty to carry out ongoing risk management to determine if its business practices could potentially adversely affect human rights. This includes risks to all those who could be negatively affected by a corporation's actions (e.g. employees, consumers, and persons who could be affected by environmental harm).

Topics (1)

Insight

Corporate responsibility

In Pakistan, workers died in a fire at a textile factory because fire safety measures had been neglected. In Peru, people living near a copper mine became ill after pollution leaked into the groundwater. In Bahrain, critics of the regime were arrested and tortured after police used commercial surveillance software to tap their phones and computers. In these three examples, responsibility for human rights violations can be traced back to foreign companies in Germany, Switzerland and the UK, respectively.

Both in economic and legal terms, transnational corporations are the winners of the globalized economy. They are often caught up in a broad range of human rights violations, but the people running the firms are only rarely called before the courts, and even more rarely convicted for their wrongdoing.

However, taking legal action against transnational corporations for violations in their global supply chain is slowly becoming a more viable option. Social movements and NGOs from the Global South are increasingly using legal tools to address human rights violations involving foreign companies by taking action in the countries where these firms are headquartered.

ECCHR aims to use legal mechanisms to help break down unjust economic, social, political and legal power relations around the world. In its Business and Human Rights program, ECCHR assists the political and social struggles of those affected by corporate human rights violations by supporting strategic legal interventions in Europe.

Map

Discover our Living Open Archive