Streamlined supply chains, industry certifications help to ensure fair tradeStreamlined supply chains, industry certifications help to ensure fair trade
An industry expert details how brands can work to help create a more sustainable marketplace.
June 7, 2023
This is the third article in a series co-authored by Udi Lazimy and T. Callahan of Lazimy Regenerative Impact Partners, which explores transparent sourcing as a fundamental facet of building a food system with integrity. Read the first article and second article here.
Arguably the most familiar of the pillars that buttress any sustainable sourcing program, achieving true fairness in trade is hardly settled. Considering the many junctions along a modern supply chain, fair trade remains one of the more nebulous efforts for any brand to tackle.
While existing certifications continue to be the most effective measure of ensuring fairness where opaque industry norms still reside, they are far from perfect. So, what should you look for on your clients’ behalf?
Minimizing the number of links in the supply chain remains one of the most effective measures to ensure fairness each step of the way. Cultivating direct relationships with suppliers and producers goes a long way to ensuring best practices are followed. In today’s markets, however, when increasingly smaller brands are producing innovative products that feature ingredients from around the globe, it’s simply not feasible to source everything directly.
Alberto Irezabal, Ph.D., director at large of the board of directors of Heifer International, sheds light on the situation. “Fairness of trade must appeal to integral human dignity and regenerative nature practices at the production, transformation, distribution and consumption processes of the value chains,” he said. “If in any of these moments people are losing dignity or nature is being harmed, then we’re not achieving fairness of trade. Sadly, this is quite common in our global value chains, especially at the margins.”
What tangible standards and metrics can be employed in an effort to enhance fairness? Existing certifications undoubtedly have a role to play (Fair Trade, Fair For Life, B-Corp, just to name a few).
Ensuring all parties comply with local labor laws, though, is a primary priority. While local labor laws and standards are known to vary, organizations like the International Labor Organization offer reliable resources to ensure compliance with all Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining laws. In the simplest of terms, this means workers understand and are trained on their rights, including negotiating the terms of their employment, whether individually or collectively. Making these agreements on good faith is the hope; fair trade only works so far as independent auditors are granted unlimited access.
While cultural differences will likely mean some variance along the supply chain, certain measures must be protected at all costs. Chief amongst them: child labor. First and most importantly, no children below the age of 15, legal age or the age of compulsory schooling should be employed. If an operator’s children or children of any employee, farmer or worker work onsite, the operator must ensure that a child’s employment does not interfere with his or her schooling, safety or physical development.
Worker’s rights are also at the top of the list. What does this look like when dealing with international markets? Fundamentally, employers in the food system or any other industry must not force people to work or remain on premises against their will. Companies must pay wages and benefits in accordance with the law. Brands that source from regions that have inadequate enforcement of employment laws should work with suppliers to increase transparency and certification of improved conditions as compared to the status quo in designated regions.
Monitoring the health and safety standards adds another layer of scrutiny that goes even beyond those directly involved in trade. At the most basic level, operations must minimize and eliminate immediate threats to workers’ health and lives. Sourcing programs and operating with a code of ethics and standards can put a brand on the side of integrity.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts
Certifications are a great way to buoy a brand’s own claims while saying, “You don’t have to take our word for it.” The ultimate goal is to let your ingredients tell the story. The better the ingredients, the more they speak for themselves. It’s not only about what isn’t in your products, but also about what is in your products.
After decades of corporate interests prioritizing bottom line over much else, consumers are becoming increasingly vigilant. While prioritizing fairness within one’s own supply chain is likely to come with added costs, it’s important to recognize the difference between cost and value added. Taking shortcuts often comes at the cost of magnifying tomorrow’s downstream externalities. There’s no greater challenge in business than addressing consumer concerns retroactively.
With more than 20 years leading sustainable food system policy and innovation at companies and organizations like Eat Just, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Beyond Meat, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Patagonia and others, Lazimy and Callahan hope to encourage new approaches to the challenges that face the U.S. food system with an emphasis on the burgeoning plant-based industry.
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