Verité is pleased to be a core partner in KnowTheChain, which released the Food & Beverage Benchmark this week.
This benchmark evaluates the 20 largest global food and beverage companies across seven themes related to labor standards including purchasing practices, traceability, and recruitment. The report found that, on the whole, the response to forced labor risk in the food and beverage sector is inadequate.
KnowTheChain provides resources to companies and investors to better understand the forced labor risks in their supply chains and portfolios. A project of Humanity United and maintained in partnership with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Sustainalytics, and Verité, KnowTheChain released a benchmark on the Information and Communications Technology sector in June and will release the Apparel & Footwear sector benchmark at the end of the year.
The companies at the top of the list include Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé while the bottom includes Tyson Foods, Kraft Heinz, and Monster Beverage.
The food and beverage industry is particularly vulnerable to forced labor because it often relies on agricultural workers from marginalized groups including women and migrants and places them in isolated workplaces where housing and other basic needs are provided by the employer, leaving them dependent and defenseless.
“Every day we eat and drink products tainted by forced labor,” said Kilian Moote, Director of KnowTheChain. Annabel Short, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre Deputy Director, explains, “Agricultural workers are among the workers most at risk of forced labour. Many work in harsh conditions on isolated farms under the complete control of their employers. Yet food and beverage companies are only starting to wake up to this exploitation in their supply chains, We hope this benchmark helps the industry as a whole take steps to eradicate the worst working conditions for people who produce our food.”
Of the companies benchmarked, 15 out of 20 have taken the positive step of integrating labor standards into their supplier contracts. Yet, standards are not enough and must be reinforced by action – weeding out the bad actors and rewarding the good.
Although 17 out of 20 companies have processes in place to trace some part of their supply chains, no company fully traces its supply chain. Of the seven theme areas, recruitment is the lowest scoring with an average score of 10/100. None of the 20 companies benchmarked requires direct employment of its workers and only two require their suppliers to audit recruiters.
“While the report shows that some companies are taking important, replicable steps to address forced labor in their supply chains, it also reveals that many more in the industry are doing too little to protect vulnerable workers. This benchmark provides a unique opportunity to advance the good practices it describes and demonstrates that the time for such action is now,” advises Verité’s CEO, Shawn MacDonald.
The full report and company scores can be found at KnowTheChain’s website.