General Mills Approach to Advancing a Sustainable Supply Chain

Apr 14, 2015 12:15 PM ET

Originally published on CSRwire TalkBack Blog

Today, global food businesses must balance growth and complexity with the need to conserve natural resources. Additionally, our customers, partners and consumers want to know more about where and how the ingredients in our foods are grown and processed.

At General Mills, we believe that efforts aimed at improving safety, sustainability, transparency and traceability are key drivers improving the overall effectiveness of our global supply chain. These are not additional goals that complement our operating model. Driving progress in these areas is critical to operating excellence and ensuring the promise of our brands to our consumers.

Here are some recent highlights of our efforts to improve sustainability and transparency in our supply chain.  

Advancing sustainable agriculture

In 2013, we committed to sustainably source 100 percent of our 10 priority ingredients by 2020. This represents more than 50 percent of our annual, global raw material purchases. Because each ingredient and its geography are unique, we tailor our sustainability approach accordingly. 

For example, in developing economies – from which we source 20 percent of our ingredients – we work with smallholder farmers, NGOs and industry partners to pursue sustainable development that addresses economic, environmental and social challenges. This model has enabled us to help ensure sustainable sourcing of raw materials like cocoa and vanilla while improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and their communities.

We also work with industry groups, our suppliers and growers in developed economies to increase the sustainability of row crops, including oats, wheat, sugar beets and corn. Here, our primary focus is to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. For example, in the U.S., we partner with Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (FTM) to help growers increase the sustainability of their crops.  Using FTM tools, farmers collect information about efficiency of land use, soil conservation, water use, energy use and GHG emissions, enabling them to make and measure improvements year to year.

Respecting human rights 

Respect for human rights is core to our company values and mission. Guided by the International Labor Organization’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, General Mills respects the principles of collective bargaining and freedom of association, and prohibition of discrimination, child labor and forced labor – including that associated with human trafficking.

As part our commitment to respecting human rights in our supply chain, we are leaders in the AIM-PROGRESS Responsible Sourcing Forum, whose mission is to promote responsible sourcing in the packaged goods supply chain.   

We hold ourselves and our suppliers to the same level of compliance, with a focus on four pillars: human rights, health and safety, environmental compliance and business integrity. We have clearly defined standards for our company, suppliers and other business partners to protect human rights, and we enforce these standards conducting frequent independent audits of our suppliers. In 2014, we joined the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX) and updated our Supplier Code of Conduct to include General Mills’ mandatory requirements related to responsible sourcing.

We are a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and more recently, we signed on to the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP). Established by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, the Empowerment of Women and the UNGC, the WEPs outline a set of seven principles for business, offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. These principles underscore General Mills’ ongoing commitment to respect human rights across our supply chain.

Establishing a “Zero Loss Culture”

Within our direct operations, we continue to reduce our environmental footprint while creating business value for General Mills. Each year, we invest in projects that reduce energy, water, waste and fuel, as well as initiatives to improve the sustainability of our packaging.

These efforts are supported by a variety of business strategies, one of them being loss elimination. We refer to this approach as “Zero Loss Culture,” which empowers employees to identify and eliminate waste in every part of the business.   

In addition to reducing the environmental footprint of our operations, our Zero Loss Culture also includes creating an incident-free workplace. By leading with safety, we are committed to ensuring we protect the safety of our employees as well as the food they make.

In 2014, we made significant progress toward our goal of zero injuries and illnesses by achieving a 17 percent reduction in our global total injury rate (TIR) compared with 2013. Overall, throughout the last year, 12 General Mills production facilities operated injury-free; 22 locations had a TIR below 1.0; and 27 locations had zero lost-time accidents due to injuries. Workplace safety is not only imperative to the success of our employees, but the success of our business as well. 

Each year, we make great strides toward our mission of being one of the most socially responsible food companies in the world. We are proud of this progress and recognize there is still much to be done. We’re committed to creating economic, environmental and social value in the countries where we operate, and have only just begun.  These aims are good for our business and good for the planet.

Learn more about General Mills global responsibility efforts in our 2015 Global Responsibility Report, released earlier this month.

This article first appeared on CSRwire TalkBack Blog.