Food workers on the breadline while CEOs prosper

Supermarket CEOs are earning up to 224 times more than their average employee, who are increasingly battling food poverty, writes Jack Thompson

Tortoise Media’s Responsibility 100 Index scores companies on environmental, social and ethical metrics and compares how their claims match up to their action. 

Its findings exposed a continued trend of those at the top prospering while workers endure low wages and soaring inflation. 

CEOs made 30% more in 2022 than in 2021. Tesco CEO Ken Murphy earned £4.74m last year, which is 224 times more than the average worker. The average worker’s salary of £21,217 at the supermarket chain is more than £4,000 below that deemed to be an acceptable standard of living by the Joseph Roundtree Foundation. 

“A CEO that is paid millions while their workers are struggling to keep afloat during the ongoing cost of living crisis is totally unacceptable,” wrote lead researcher of the report, Maddy Diment, in a blog for the Food Research Collaboration. 

Meanwhile, 40% of food workers reported that they have not eaten enough due to a lack of money, according to a 2021 survey by Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU). “The very workers who produce and serve the food that we eat are regularly lacking the means to feed themselves and their families,” general secretary of the BFAWU Sarah Woolley told Tribune magazine. 

Tortoise’s analysis points to notoriously tight profit margins in the food sector and bullish price-competitive strategies used by retailers, as a cause of low pay. Poultry producers are among the least profitable businesses across Britain’s food industry, averaging at 2.7%, noted Diment, and “they also have some of the lowest wages”.

The findings follow a Sustain report that highlighted the link between low profits in farming with environmental sustainability. Food producers need more money in their businesses to invest in new approaches to protect nature, reduce emissions and pay staff fairly, Sustain said. 

On the link between low wages and environmental sustainability, Diment added: “A sustainable food system is one in which all actors, both human and non-human, are treated with respect, dignity and fairness.”

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