UPDATE: October 10, 2019: This story has been updated with a statement from Whole Foods.
- Oxfam America and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have leveled allegations against several chains in separate reports detailing animal and labor rights abuses, according to emails sent to Grocery Dive.
- PETA released whistleblower footage allegedly captured inside the facilities of a supplier to JB USA, which provides products to Kroger, Costco and other stores, according to a press release from PETA. The footage depicts bleak conditions for pigs, unhygienic conditions and workers throwing piglets.
- Oxfam conducted research into farms and plantations supplying products to Whole Foods and other retailers, and alleged numerous labor violations, including workers on a North Carolina sweet potato farm putting in 14-hour days in oppressive heat with limited access to restrooms.
This is not the first time that PETA has targeted retailers. The organization sued Whole Foods in 2015 for claiming that its meat is humane based on undercover footage from one of Whole Foods' pork suppliers. It also included claims based on alleged overcrowding, injured animals and antibiotic use, according to Grub Street. Whole Foods eventually won a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
PETA and Kroger have also crossed paths before. Last year, Kroger dropped one of its egg suppliers after PETA released a video from the supplier’s premises where hens were being abused, along with an allegation that 8,000 hens died due to heat exhaustion.
Whole Foods also has a lot at stake with Oxfam's claims of labor violations, given the consumers it attracts. Whole foods shoppers pay a premium for organic, natural and vegan products that they believe are sourced responsibly and fairly.
In a statement emailed to Grocery Dive, Whole Foods noted Oxfam "selectively published" information the retailer provided the organization regarding its business practices, and that it did not share its findings ahead of issuing its report.
“Oxfam’s latest report does not accurately reflect Whole Foods Market’s long-standing efforts to address human rights and labor issues in our supply chain, including instituting programs like our Whole Trade Guarantee that ensure fair and safe working conditions for suppliers across the globe," the statement read. "We have a proven track record of taking immediate action with suppliers when potential concerns surface and remain committed to supply chain transparency and ethical sourcing, which are areas we continue to invest in."
Dairy product maker Fairlife and parent company Coca-Cola are also facing legal heat after undercover footage was released depicting poor animal welfare and treatment at a dairy facility. Following release of the footage, several Midwest grocers pulled Fairlife products from their shelves, according to Today.
Animal welfare is the top cause consumers care about according to 2018 research from Ketchum. As a result, videos depicting abuse of farm animals can have an immediate impact on consumer perception of a retailer and the animal products they sell. Consumers are increasingly placing the burden of greater transparency in the food chain on grocery retailers and brands.