A Thanksgiving Wish: Sustainably and Ethically Source Foods Free of Slavery

A Thanksgiving Wish: Sustainably and Ethically Source Foods Free of Slavery

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - 3:00pm

CAMPAIGN: Supply Chain & Risk Management News

CONTENT: Article

Food is certainly the focus of Thanksgiving.  Abundant, hearty meals will be enjoyed by millions across the United States. However, many Americans may give little thought to whether the food on their plate was ethically or responsibly sourced. 

Yet, food companies – from producers to manufacturers to retailers – are increasingly focusing their energy on ensuring that their products are free of issues such as forced or unfair labor conditions, environmental damage, etc. Similar attention is paid to this issue by advocacy groups, national governments and the news.

The U.S. Department of Labor continually updates its report on all commodities (food, clothing, etc.) that are produced using child or forced labor.  Currently, the list includes approximately 139 goods from 75 countries.  Food products include blueberries from Argentina, corn from the Philippines, hazelnuts from Turkey and poultry from Bangladesh. 

In addition to efforts to identify modern day slavery in supply chains, food labeling and certification for sustainability have also increased transparency and given consumers the power to make value-based purchasing decisions. Organic produce has resulted in federal labeling standards, and shoppers are now accustomed to seeing organically labeled produce or entire sections devoted to organic products. Many experts agree that consumers believe organic produce is free of pesticides, hormones and other chemicals and responsibly grown – and food safety is generally the first thing consumers consider after price when making a purchasing decision.

Inquiring consumers can also find food labels, such as “MSC” (Marine Stewardship Council).  The MSC is focused on certifying seafood caught through sustainable practices.  However, the MSC generally doesn’t attempt to verify whether child or forced labor is connected to certified seafood. The gap between sustainably caught seafood and forced labor has been highlighted repeatedly since 2015 when news media organizations began investigating and reporting on slave labor in the fishing industry.

One promising certification program is through another non-profit organization – the Safe Food Quality Institute (SFQI), which sets standards for not only forced labor, but pollution and health and safety for ethically sourced food. However, this certification is not widely displayed on food product labels.

Food products – whether they are fresh vegetables or meats, processed foods or even liquid refreshments – will remain a focus of NGOs, analysts, regulators and others concerned about reducing the use of slave or child labor around the world.  This means any and all companies in the food industry will be under continued scrutiny to verify and report on their supply chains.  Anti-slavery laws, such as those in effect in California and the United Kingdom, are expected to be adopted by other countries in the coming years and with an increasing eye on the food industry.

Supply chain transparency begins with collecting and analyzing data, and knowing where to look for suspicious circumstances.  As highlighted in Source Intelligence’s recent webinar, a good approach for any company seeking to remove child labor from their supply chains is to follow the same due diligence guidelines they have used to investigate conflict minerals.