A “shocking lack of action” over child and forced labour has been exposed across agrifood, in a study that found the vast majority of companies are not working hard enough to prohibit child labour in their supply chains. Child Labour Plagues Food System
The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) uncovered the scale of the problem, saying “child labour continues to plague our food system.”
- Viktoria de Bourbon de Parme introduces the WBA’s Food and Agriculture Benchmark at Quota’s UN Food Systems Summit side event
- The full recording of Quota’s UN Food Systems Summit side event
It studied the world’s top 350 agrifood companies – which account for half of all revenue in the sector – finding 202 of them do not explicitly require their supply chains to prohibit child labour. Most of the companies – 309 – do not have “comprehensive” measures in place to prevent forced labour.
Only two companies, Unilever and Musim Mas, a palm oil company based in Singapore, have fully committed to paying living wages throughout their business and supply chains.
Viktoria de Bourbon de Parme, who leads on Food and Agriculture Transformation at the WBA, shared the findings at Quota’s UN Food Systems Summit side event on September 24th.
She said at the event, “The results are dramatic and a lot of companies really need to step up. The large majority is lagging behind. Child Labour Plagues Food System
“Two thirds of the world’s poorest are agricultural workers and their dependents”
“The companies we studied are change makers in the agrifood system. These are clear metrics which are independent and applicable to all companies. We really need change across the board.
“The information is free for everyone, companies can access it and apply it, to make sure that their supply chains are safe for their workers but also sustainable. We want to make sure this data is used.”
The companies studied directly employ more than 23 million and their supply chains rely on most of the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers. The study, the Food and Agriculture Benchmark is described as the first assessment of its kind across the entire food value chain.
Just 8 per cent of the 350 companies have “comprehensive” human rights due diligence in place.
The study looked at whether suppliers retain workers’ personal documents or restrict their freedom of movement, finding the vast majority of companies – 304 – do not prevent this.
It says, “Two thirds of the global population living in extreme poverty, surviving on less than US$1.90 per day, are agricultural workers and their dependents.
“Climate change exacerbates the vulnerability of many in the supply chain”
“Farm, factory and plantation workers are among the most vulnerable and often exposed to income insecurity as employment is typically informal, seasonal and underpaid.”
The report said that living wages could transform the lives of millions and eradicate other human rights abuses such as child labour. A higher income allows families to send children to school.
The report also says that climate change is exacerbating the vulnerability of many in the supply chain, particularly in developing countries. Only 54 per cent of companies support resilience initiatives for farmers and fishers.
Described as a “social inclusion” measure, the WBA assessed the companies against 18 core indicators including efforts to respect human rights, provide and promote decent work and act ethically, as well as six transformation-specific social inclusion indicators, such as land rights and farmer and fisher productivity and resilience. It found 332 out of the 350 companies earned less than half of the total available scores.
The report says, “The lack of disclosure from companies across the value chain is concerning, especially as we move past the ten-year anniversary of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” Very few demonstrated they have due diligence and monitoring processes.
Unilever scored highest on social inclusion at 23.7 out of 30, followed by Nestlé at 22.2.
“Without a living wage, families may be forced to put children to work”
C&S Wholesale Grocers, one of America’s largest wholesale grocery supply companies, Italian retail giant Conad, French supermarket chain E.Leclerc, dairy multinational Mueller and family-run German food brand Oetker were among the 51 companies to score zero on social inclusion.
Viktoria de Bourbon de Parme said, “The situation appears desperate. The mechanisms of our global food system are linked to poverty. Without a living wage, families may be forced to put children to work. Climate change reinforces the cycle of poverty.”
The benchmark also measured environmental impact – finding only 26 of the 350 companies studied are working toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement.
The WBA has previously estimated that the agrifood sector alone could prevent Paris agreement targets from being met.
The study found 188 of the 350 companies have not set any targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, despite the urgency of the need to do so. A recent IPCC report said “it is likely extreme temperatures will exceed the threshold for agriculture” destroying livelihoods and fostering world hunger.
“Three quarters of companies make no commitment to improve affordability of healthy food”
The benchmark also found 201 of the companies have failed to prioritise healthy foods through marketing strategies.
It said, “Nutritious diets are not a consumer choice when three quarters of the benchmarked companies do not make any commitment to improve the accessibility and affordability of healthy foods.”
At Quota’s September 24th event Viktoria de Bourbon de Parme said, “This research was done at company levels but we can make it applicable at product level.
“The Food System Summit provided so much momentum that will kick start a lot of work. We have seen that there are leaders in every segment of the value chain, in agricultural input, in commodity trade and retail, in food and beverage manufacturers.”