The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the consumer organization foodwatch are taking legal action against the German retail chain Edeka for misleading consumers with a label for sustainable palm oil. Edeka advertises vegetable oil and margarine under its own brand Gut & Günstig with the seal of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), although, according to all the findings available to ECCHR and foodwatch, human rights violations and environmental pollution systematically occur in the cultivation of palm oil in Guatemala. The affected parties are demanding that Edeka stop sourcing palm oil from the respective plantations and work toward preventing legal violations in its supply chain.
Research by ECCHR, foodwatch and a human rights organization from Guatemala shows that violations of labor rights occur regularly on NaturAceites plantations in Guatemala, including excessive work hours, insufficient wages and the hindering of efforts to form trade unions. Palm oil production also takes place on plantations that the indigenous population claims as their traditional land. Demonstrations by local people for their land rights have been violently suppressed by security forces. People who criticized palm oil cultivation received threats, the organizations report. The use of pesticides on the plantations also leads to contamination of the drinking water in neighboring communities.
"Edeka lures customers with a sustainability label, even though this label does not prevent violent expropriations and environmental destruction on RSPO-certified plantations. Edeka must take responsibility in the supply chain and stop greenwashing. The RSPO label for sustainable palm oil cannot be relied upon," explained Manuel Wiemann from foodwatch.
NaturAceites supplies palm oil to the company Walter Rau Lebensmittel in Hilter in Lower Saxony. Walter Rau in turn produces margarine and vegetable oil for Edeka, including "Die Leichte" low-fat margarine, as well as the vegetable margarine, cream spread and oil from Gut & Günstig. The Romero Christian Initiative (CIR) already informed Edeka in 2019 about specific human rights violations at NaturAceites. However, the retail chain refused to investigate the conditions in its supply chain at the time, let alone actively contribute to improvements on the ground.
Instead, Edeka refers to audit reports and risk analyses from the RSPO, which was founded by the environmental organization WWF. However, this has been criticized for years for being incomplete and unreliable. Human rights organizations repeatedly report violations of labor and human rights standards by RSPO-certified companies, including in Guatemala.
ECCHR and foodwatch are taking two legal actions against Edeka: on the one hand, they are issuing a warning under the Act against Unfair Competition (UWG) demanding that the Edeka company refrain from misleading advertising and remove the RSPO label from its products. On the other hand, together with those affected from Guatemala, they are demanding that Edeka refrain from using palm oil from these plantations in Edeka products until the situation on the ground has improved. To this end, they have filed a complaint under the German Supply Chain Act. Consumers can join this action and support a petition campaign directed at Edeka at www.foodwatch.org/palmoel-aktion.
"The human rights violations are in no way surprising. On the contrary, lack of respect for indigenous land rights, violation of labor rights and environmental pollution are standard ingredients of palm oil production and must be prioritized and tackled by German supermarkets like Edeka. Edeka must now monitor its supply chain, in order to be able to approach problematic suppliers and, with the involvement of those affected, work towards ending local conflicts and respecting indigenous land rights. Nothing less is required by the Supply Chain Act," explains Christian Schliemann-Radbruch from ECCHR.
Since the Supply Chain Act came into force in January 2023, large companies such as Edeka have been legally obliged to enhance the protection of human rights and the environment with their own risk analyses and measures along the entire supply chain. If Edeka does not comply with the complaint, the affected parties reserve the right to lodge a complaint with the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA).
In October 2023, ECCHR, together with partner organisations ASTAC, Oxfam and Misereor, filed a complaint with the BAFA against Rewe and Edeka, as the supermarket chains have so far failed to take effective and appropriate steps to prevent human rights violations in their banana supply chain. More information on ECCHR's legal intervention on corporate responsibility and human rights violations in supply chains can be found here.