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Ministers ordered the £5million initiative amid concerns that factories and farms producing food and other exports for UK consumers have been forced to close as the virus sweeps developing countries.
Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Co-op and Waitrose are among companies that have signed up to the scheme.
The move is part of Boris Johnson’s drive to switch Britain’s multi-billion aid spending towards projects that benefit the national interest.
Announcing the fund, International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “We want to ensure people in Britain can continue to buy affordable, high-quality goods from around the world.
“This new fund will strengthen vital supply chains for UK consumers, while supporting some of the most vulnerable workers in developing countries. It will make a real difference to people in the UK and abroad.”
Figures from the Department for International Development show around 20 percent of food and drink consumed in the UK is imported from the world’s poorest nations.
Officials say the fund will improve coronavirus preparedness in workplaces, help farmers diversify to meet demand, and provide support so farms and factories can keep production going and ensure help gets to the most vulnerable workers.
Dubbed the Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility, it will help to ensure the steady supply of products such as vegetables, coffee and clothes to the UK high street.
It will help stores work with aid organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation and the Ethical Trading Initiative to improve working conditions and greater access to healthcare. Ministers believe the initiative will help make workplaces safer, meaning employees can return to work and supply chains can keep moving and become more resilient.
The fund, made up of £4.85million from the taxpayer and £2million from businesses, will focus on Myanmar, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana – major suppliers of food, flowers and clothes.
Judith Batchelar, at Sainsbury’s, said: “As a responsible retailer, this work further demonstrates our commitment to trading ethically and making a positive difference to the communities we source from.”
Fiona Sadler, M&S’s ethical trading boss, said the chain had “a robust approach to ethical fashion – we know we’re only as strong as the communities where we operate and we’re committed to helping improve the lives of workers in our supply chain through collaborative initiatives.”
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