LONDON – Some of the world’s biggest retailers and food companies including Kellogg Co., Walmart Inc. and Nestle backed a new initiative on Wednesday to improve global supply chains amid rising consumer demand for slave-free goods and services.
The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) — which represents about 400 leading retailers and manufacturers across 70 countries — said it is creating a benchmark to support the development of more socially and environmentally responsible supply chains.
The Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI) will advise buyers and suppliers on third-party auditing and certification schemes with the aim of boosting sustainable sourcing and reducing audit duplication and complexity, according to the CGF.
“Today, any company wanting to assess the sustainability of their value chains faces a confusing array of different technical standards and auditing approaches,” Peter Freedman, managing director of the CGF, said in a statement.
About 25 million people worldwide are estimated to be trapped in forced labor, according to the U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) and rights group Walk Free Foundation.
In recent years modern slavery has come under the global spotlight, putting greater regulatory and consumer pressure on companies to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labor, child labor and other forms of slavery.
“We hope CGF members will be able to direct more efforts and resources towards meaningfully protecting workers and engaging more deeply with their supply chains,” Kilian Moote, director of KnowTheChain (KTC), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
KTC is a project of Humanity United, a U.S.-based foundation, for businesses and investors looking to address forced labor in supply chains.
From chocolate and tea to shrimp and sugar, food and drink supply chains are complex with multiple layers across various countries — whether in sourcing raw ingredients or processing the final product — making it hard to spot and remedy abuses.
“Increasingly complex global supply chains mean companies must undertake detailed checks to ensure their products are not created at the expense of the workers,” said Joe Bardwell of the British-based Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).
The CGF — which includes most consumer goods giants from Campbell Soup to Unilever PLC — said its members have combined sales of $4.3 trillion and directly employ nearly 10 million people, with a further 90 million jobs along their value chains.
“The SSCI will support continuous improvement … worldwide in order to achieve our common goal of more sustainable supply chains,” said Chris Tyas, global head of supply chain at food group Nestle, which makes KitKat chocolate bars and Maggi soups.