Abuse and exploitation in our shopping caddies

By Jang KapgenLex Kleren

Politicians and supermarkets have been aware of the exploitation of the workers who make our Luxembourgish lifestyle accessible and cheap, but change has been slow, as activists claim. Lëtzebuerger Journal talked to politicians and human rights organisations to see how bad the current situation is and why the shift to a fair economy is proceeding so slowly.

A t-shirt made in Bangladesh sold in Luxembourg for 1 Euro and wine produced in South Africa for 2,50 Euro – our Luxembourgish shopping carts are filled with cheap products from all over the world. While consumers are most likely aware of the protection of workers within Luxembourg and the EU at large, exploitations of workers abroad are too often hidden out of the consumer’s sight. Nevertheless, assumptions like "there is no exploitative products sold in our local supermarkets" or "the EU makes sure all workers are protected" persist. Sadly, this assumption is still factually wrong. Worker exploitation, ranging from daily exposure to pesticides to minimal salaries that do not guarantee the survival of the workers, has been brought to the public’s attention for years, most recently by the Initiative pour un devoir de vigilance au Luxembourg (IDV) in 2018 – but not much has changed since then. Jean-Louis Zeien is co-coordinator of this initiative and knows "it is no question if there are products [in the Luxembourgish market] which contain worker exploitation. It is evident that this is the case". But how bad is the current situation and what needs to change?

Pesticides in your lungs and a salary to hunger

"It is naïve to assume no one pays the price for our products – these people pay the price through their health and terrifying working conditions", Zeien emphasises, referring to the human rights organisation Oxfam’s newest report about products sold in German supermarkets. Oxfam’s report speaks of working conditions that are unimaginable for most Luxembourgish customers, but are the daily routines of workers abroad.

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