Turkish workers at the agricultural company Agrobay will file a complaint in Germany against the discounter Lidl. Reason: A possible violation of the supply chain law.

A few months ago, employees of the Turkish agricultural company Agrobay reported illegal dismissals and inhumane working conditions. They say they are bullied and denied the right to go to the toilet. They took to the streets for their rights. The former employees have been protesting in the western Turkish metropolis of Izmir for over eight months. The German supermarket giant Lidl is partly responsible. Now Agrobay workers are preparing for a legal battle against the German company.

Until recently, business between Lidl and Agrobay continued unchanged. The German company has now announced that it has ended this collaboration. The company responded to a query from DW:

“In consideration of the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, we initiated an investigation a few months ago regarding a complaint about possible violations of our employees’ protected legal positions at our indirect supplier Agrobay. Following these investigations and extensive discussions with all parties involved, we have decided to terminate our business relationship with to end Agrobay.”

For data protection reasons, the company did not provide any details about the investigation. Lidl also emphasized the low importance of the collaboration with Agrobay: “For Lidl in Germany, outside the tomato season in Northern/Central Europe, we only source a single-digit percentage of our tomatoes from Turkey, of which only a small portion comes from the producer Agrobay. Basically, we source If possible, goods from regional suppliers are preferred. In spring/summer the proportion of Turkish tomatoes in the German range is even lower.

Agrobay, which has been active since 2002, has an annual cultivation capacity of 20,000 tons, making it one of the largest manufacturers in the agricultural sector in Turkey. The company also exports to England, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Russia.

In an interview with DW, Umut Kocagöz, president of the Tarım-Sen agricultural union, confirmed that Lidl ended its cooperation with Agrobay in mid-April. They have attempted to hold talks with Agrobay’s lawyers, but so far this has not been possible, said Kocagöz. The trade unionist further explained that EU parliamentarian Özlem Alev Demirel had sent a letter to Lidl which may have influenced the decision to stop trading.

In contrast, the company explains that it had suspended the business relationship with Agrobay before this letter arrived: “Lidl deals with potential violations of the provisions of our Code of Conduct as well as violations of human rights or environmental obligations according to clear guidelines and processes. We continuously and systematically examine potential human rights, social and environmental risks in our supply chains. The aim is to identify and minimize these risks. If violations are discovered during the processing of reports, we will do our best to do so to take appropriate remedial measures on a case-by-case basis. We will also then examine whether preventive measures are necessary to avoid such injuries in the future.”

The union’s accusation: Despite the discovered legal violations, the company did not end its cooperation with Agrobay in a timely manner, thereby violating the new German supply chain law.

Violations of the law can be punished with fines of up to 800,000 euros. According to financial figures for 2022-2023, Lidl is one of the largest discounters in the world with more than 12,200 branches in 31 countries worldwide and sales of 114.8 billion euros. The company is therefore a prestige partner and important reference source for Agrobay.

Under the law, Germany could have protected the rights of these workers, but failed to do so, those affected have been complaining for months. The law, which has been in force since January 2023, requires German companies of a certain size to take human rights and environmental regulations into account in their supply chains both at home and abroad. This actually has consequences for Turkish companies that trade with Germany – including Agrobay.

In recent months, the former workers held discussions with Lidl. “We have been in talks with Lidl for about two months. We were told that we would get a severance payment if we gave up our fight. Business with Agrobay would then continue. Then there was an interruption in our talks. You have yours “In the end, Lidl told us that the business relationship had been terminated,” said Kocagöz. Lidl also rejected the workers’ demand to announce the termination of the cooperation to the press, said Kocagöz.

Those responsible at Lidl reject this claim. The company told DW that Lidl has been in dialogue with the Tarım-Sen union for more than six months. It continues: “We strongly disagree with the claim that Lidl offered the union members a severance payment for ending the protests. This is incorrect information. This approach fundamentally does not correspond to Lidl’s position and was also used in this case “We supported the union’s interests towards Agrobay at all times and therefore took immediate action even after the allegations became known.”

A few months ago, Agrobay sued the former employees who protested in front of the German consulate. Reason: they had “damaged trade relations with Germany”. The court case is still ongoing. Germany is Turkey’s most important trading partner and the most important destination country for Turkish exports.

This article has been supplemented and corrected by Lidl’s detailed statement. It was originally said that Agrobay was one of the most important suppliers for Lidl and that Lidl received a large proportion of its tomatoes from Turkey from Agrobay. However, according to Lidl, this is wrong. In fact, it’s only a small portion. Please excuse the mistake. 

The original for this article “Supply Chain Act: Discounter Lidl under criticism” comes from Deutsche Welle.