We’ve probably all heard the horror stories about where or how food has been sourced -  whether it’s about polluting the planet and being unsustainable, child labour in farms and factories, poor working conditions with over 16-hour shifts or how crops and ingredients are grown and treated. The good news is that attention-grabbing headlines make many companies that are involved take action. Concerned with the negative impact on their brand they are keen to steer away from bad publicity. But how well do we really know the process and the origins of the products we source?

In reality, it’s very difficult for a catering department or catering business and the consumer to know what’s happening throughout the entire process and while there are regulations and food standards such as CIPS, it doesn’t guarantee that every product is sourced in a sustainable and ethical way. Even the most ethical companies with strict processes and practices struggle to monitor what happens with suppliers on a daily basis.

Going Nuts

Despite regulations and certifications with the best intentions aimed at setting the highest standards, a number of large brands from food to clothing and technology have had their share of bad publicity. One such example is an article on the BBC website which highlights how Ferrero sources hazelnuts for products such as Nutella in a process that involves young children and migrant workers in Turkey.

No doubt more stories like this hit the headlines in the future. For more reading about these topics see: Cutting back on palm oil and Sustainable procurement

It’s not all doom and gloom (and what you can do)

The good news is that companies, globally, have started to pay more attention to their procurement processes in the last 20 years and nobody wants to hit the headlines for the wrong reasons - especially as this can impacts sales and profits considerably.

Stories about migrant workers and child labour continue to remind us all that these sorts of activities are not acceptable and while we still hear stories in the news, they tend to hit the headlines because they are becoming rare cases that the media can jump on and grab our attention as readers.

The need for sustainable food products and processes that care for the environment is still a relatively new concern that consumers and businesses have started to focus more on in the last 5-10 years. Rules and regulations must continue to develop and evolve to improve food standards further. Your business and consumers can also help to make a difference.

As a business, there are various things you can do to ensure products are sourced ethically and sustainably. Here are some tips:

Understand the distribution channel: Ask questions and research which companies are involved in the process of delivering products from the farm or factory to your door. It’s often the case that different companies are involved in growing, washing, packing and shipping ingredients. Understanding the process can help to identify how sustainable or ethical the process of sourcing products is.

Source locally: Shipping products from around the world increases the carbon footprint as well as the chances of unethical activities. Different countries have different rules which aren’t as developed or strict as they are in the UK or Europe. Sourcing locally also helps to improve communication and to understand the process.

Clarify your demands: When sourcing products, make sure that your supplier understands your brand promise and that you are committed to offering the highest level of sustainability and ethical standards possible. This positive re-enforcement of how you want to operate can also help prompt suppliers to re-evaluate their processes to ensure they are doing things properly. For more information on how we can do this for you, contact our procurement management consultants

Ask for evidence of the procurement process: If you have any concerns about a supplier’s process, seek clarification. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request information in writing on who they employ, how products are handled or what procedure and process documents they have.

Be open and honest: If you do encounter an issue where products you are sourcing might be unethical, take action immediately and in a transparent way. Consumers might be demanding, but they can also be very understanding if it’s clear that you are committed to making a difference and have taken immediate action.

How to source products ethically

If you would like to understand more about sourcing products ethically, get in touch our procurement management consultants at Ramsay Todd Consultancy.