The Department for International Development has unveiled plans to spend almost £5m of UK aid on protecting supply chains serving British high street firms hit by the impact of Covid-19.
The project – which will also get a further £2m investment from British businesses – will be used to help high street firms protect foreign supply chains affected by the pandemic.
The Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility will see UK businesses, including Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Primark, works with advisers from organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation, CARE UK and Ethical Trading Initiative to try to improve working conditions and boost access to healthcare for workers worldwide.
The facility, which is supported by £4.85m UK Overseas Development Assistance, will focus primarily on supply chains and workers in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana. These countries provide large proportions of the world’s food, flowers and clothes.
Around 20% of UK food and drink is imported from developing countries, but DfID said many factories and farms around the world had been forced to close as a result of the pandemic.
Announcing the funding, 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."
Initiatives being supported through the fund include a partership by Marks & Spencer and CARE to improve health services for 80,000 workers that produce clothes for the retail giant in Bangladesh and improve health messaging in the factories.
The aid cash will also help Kenya-based suppliers ship flowers to the UK, after flight cancellations caused by the coronavirus crisis have disrupted imports.
The money will also be used to support the Ethical Trading Initiative, which oversees companies' supply chains, to produce safer working conditions for an estimated 10,000 African workers.
Peter McAllister, executive director at the Ethical Trading Initiative, said: "ETI welcomes the active role DfID is playing in supporting vulnerable workers in global supply chains.
"The East African agricultural workers who supply so much of our food and flowers have been hit hard by Covid-19, and DfID’s support for this intervention will help protect thousands of jobs, and protect workers from infection as the regional economy begins to recover."
But Labour MP Kate Osamor, who sits on the International Development Committee of MPs, said it was “a disgrace that the government is funnelling the aid budget into the pockets of wealthy businesses like Morrisons and Primark at the same time as it cuts poverty reduction programmes in some of the poorest countries on Earth".
Osamor said it was businesses' responsibility to provide safe environments for their workers amid Covid-19. Some of the companies who will benefit from the fund “make hundreds of millions in profit each year; the UK taxpayer should not be picking up the bill when they finally decide it’s time to improve conditions for their workforce", she said.
John Johnston is a reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this article first appeared.