In January 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed a questionnaire Aldi had completed in March 2019, and searched the Aldi website for information about the company's policy towards genetically modified ingredients. In its questionnaire the company stated: "We do not use GM ingredients and derivatives in our own label food products...In line with EU regulations and the UK market, we do not prohibit the use of GM ingredients in animal feed."

The company's website provided more detail:
"GM ingredients and derivatives are not permitted in our own label food products. Under European regulation, any Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) marketed or grown in the EU, must be authorised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and assessed for any potential safety risks.
In line with EU regulations and the UK market, our policy does not prohibit the use of GM ingredients in animal feed. We will continue to monitor GM developments and emerging scientific evidence to inform our sourcing and labelling policies and will update these as appropriate."

As Aldi did not exclude the use of GM ingredients in animal feed the company was considered to have an inadequate approach to this issue and was therefore lost half a mark under the Controversial Technologies category.

Reference:

www.aldi.co.uk/ (8 January 2020)

In January 2020, Ethical Consumer searched Aldi's websites, and a questionnaire that Aldi had completed in March 2019, for information about its cotton sourcing policy.

The questionnaire stated that suppliers must not knowingly source cotton from Uzbekistan; they are encouraged to monitor and track their cotton supply chains on the Better Cotton Initiative website. However, it was not clear whether this policy applied to the whole company group, or how it was applied and monitored.

The questionnaire said it used organic cotton, but did not state it used only organic cotton. It stated ‘certified cotton is cultivated according to certain requirements which, for example, regulate the use of fertilisers and pesticides. In Germany and Austria we offer special buy textiles products containing cotton which is certified according to, for example, the Fairtrade standard, GOTS and the Organic Content Standard (OCS). In addition to this, cotton which is certified according to GOTS or OCS also originates from controlled organic cultivation.’

Regarding GM cotton it stated ‘We request that suppliers do not use GM ingredients and/or derivatives in our non-food products.’ It was not clear how it ensured and monitored this- especially as not all of its cotton appeared to be certified organic.

The Aldi CSR website stated that "We will increase the use of sustainable cotton and ensure that only sustainable cotton is used for our ALDI-exclusive garments and household textiles from 2025 onwards. By 2025, we will therefore require the cotton used for our ALDI-exclusive products to be of either recycled origin or certified according to one of the following internationally recognised sustainability standards: Fairtrade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Organic Content Standard (OCS), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)"

However, Aldi was currently still using cotton that was not certified by these standards.

According to Anti-Slavery international (ASI) website viewed by Ethical Consumer in August 2018, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were two of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, and every year their governments forcibly mobilised over one million citizens to grow and harvest cotton. Due to the high proportion of cotton likely to have come from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the prevalence of forced labour in its production, the company lost half a mark in the Workers Rights category.

The Organic Trade Association website, www.ota.com, stated in July 2018 that cotton covered roughly 2.78% of global arable land, but accounted for 12.34% of all insecticide sales and 3.94% of herbicide sales.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton accounted for 80% of cotton grown in 2017.

Overall, Aldi was marked down under Worker's Rights and lost half a mark in this category due to its lack of a current policy for avoiding the use of Uzbeki cotton.

Due to the impacts of the widespread use of pesticides in cotton production worldwide the company also lost half a mark in the Pollution & Toxics category.

Due to the prevalence of GM cotton in cotton supply chains and the lack of any evidence that the company avoided it, it was assumed that some of the company's cotton products contained some GM material. As a result it lost half a mark under the Controversial Technology category.

Overall the company received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for its cotton sourcing policy.

Reference:

Ethical Consumer Questionnaire (14 March 2019)

In January 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed Siepmann Stiftung's family tree on the corporate database D&B Hoovers. It had a number of subsidiaries in jurisdiction considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens. This included Ireland, Hong Kong and Switzerland. The subsidiaries in Ireland and Switzerland were all branches. The subsidiaries in Hong Kong were 'Aldi Sourcing Asia Limited' and 'Ado Solutions Hong Kong ltd.', it was unclear whether these subsidiaries were serving the local population. No country by country reporting could be found.

As a result of having two or more subsidiaries, excluding branches serving the local population, in a jurisdiction considered to be a tax haven Siepman Stiftung recieved Ethical Consumer's middle rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies and lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

Generic Hoovers ref (2020)

In December 2019, Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the BananaLink website titled 'Aldi facing mounting pressure from LatAm banana supply countries over price cut plans' and dated to 31 October 2018. The article stated:

"Germany-headquartered discount retail chain Aldi is facing widespread condemnation from Latin American banana-producing countries over its plans to lower pricing by around a dollar in 2019. Industry associations from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Guatemala have all expressed anger, saying the move could cause serious issues.

"Earlier this month the Ecuadorian banana industry wrote a letter signed by 31 organizations slamming the retailer’s plans, following which Costa Rican’s Corbana, Colombia’s Augura and Guatemala’s APIB also made their complaints heard. They say that further lowering the price of an already-inexpensive fruit would hurt the banana industry economically and socially...

"Alistair Smith, international coordinator at U.K.-based non-profit Banana Link, told Fresh Fruit Portal that these plans don’t consider “the true costs of production and don’t take into account the internalization of costs, such as paying decent wages in countries where the gap is huge, or investments in environmental improvements.”

"The latest association to voice its opposition to Aldi’s price cuts was Action Alliance for Sustainability in Bananas (ABNB), a German organization that brings together representatives from trade, retail and politics as well as from consumer protection, civil society, and trade unions in the banana industry. “The ABNB supports this appeal [responsibility throughout the whole supply chain] because sustainable production also requires coverage for the costs of social and environmental standards, and this means that banana producers must have sufficient economic leeway for sustainable production,” it said in a Monday statement...

"“The ABNB stresses the absolute need to improve the incomes of small-scale farmers and wages of producers and plantation workers, to raise social standards and to invest in environmental protection and biodiversity conservation,” it said."

The company lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance for enforcing poor terms on small suppliers.

Reference:

Aldi facing mounting pressure from LatAm banana supply countries over price cut plans (31 October 20