Food & drink supply chain human rights 'cause for concern'

Global food supply chain benchmark report shows businesses score on average 16 from 100 on human rights issues around migrant labour

A report from a leading supply chain research body shows that food and beverage companies are failing to tackle forced labour risks in their supply chains.

Data from the 2023 KnowTheChain Food & Beverage Benchmark ranks the world’s 60 largest food and drink companies against their commitment to, and governance around, human rights, the traceability of raw materials, risk assessment protocols, purchasing practices and recruitment. On average, firms score just 16 out of 100.

Top-ranking organisations include Australia-based retailer Woolworths (56/100), UK supermarket chain Tesco (52), and US-based food and drinks company JM Smucker Company (47).

Yet only the top two businesses registered a figure of more than 50, and just half of the companies assessed scored more than 10 out of 100.

In its conclusion, the report says: “The food and drink sector has a long way to go to ensure its supply chain workforce is protected from forced labour.

It goes on to declare that companies “are failing to identify and prevent abuses with migrant workers”. Such workers, it says are “frequently hired in food and beverage supply chains, and they often face the worst consequences of this inaction”.

Food supply chain failing to tackle forced labour issues 

KnowTheChain is a resource for businesses and investors who need to understand and address forced labour issues in their supply chains. 

It benchmarks corporate practices, and provides practical resources to help companies comply with the ever-changing regulatory landscape and to be transparent. 

KnowTheChain is a partnership between philanthropic organisation Humanity United, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, ESG and CSR ratings organisation Sustainalytics, and Verité, a non-profit human rights group.

The report adds: “After six years’ of benchmarking, progress is stagnating in the sector.” This, it says, is “cause for concern – especially against the backdrop of current geo-political and climate crises”.

The areas where organisations fail most dramatically is in supporting freedom of association and collective bargaining. On this front, businesses score a risible 9/100 on average. Of even more concern is the lack of measures around securing worker payments and protecting workers’ physical security. The average score here is a pitiful 6/100.

On addressing exploitative recruitment practices, firms score an average of just 13. With few effective measures in place here, workers are often left indebted to their recruiters, says the report.

The report concludes: “The food system is a cornerstone of the global economy, accounting for up to two thirds of all jobs. People who harvest, pick, catch, process and pack commodities and products in global food supply chains are relied upon as essential workers. 

“As a result, they are often on the frontline of global insecurity and, bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, conflict, economic instability and soaring inflation, and social unrest.

“Our findings highlight that the sector still has a long way to go in ensuring that its supply chain workforce is protected from forced labour.

2023 KnowTheChain Food & Beverage Benchmark ranks the world’s 60 largest food and drink companies against their commitment to, and governance around, human rights, the traceability of raw materials, risk assessment protocols, purchasing practices and recruitment. On average, firms score just 16 out of 100.
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