Food and beverage companies failing to protect workers from forced labour risks
Workers in the food and beverage sector are bearing the brunt of global insecurity – with little to no action being taken to protect them by companies who control the food value chain. New analysis published today (20 July 2023) has revealed the world’s 60 largest food and beverage companies have an average score of just 16/100 when it comes to tackling forced labour risks in their supply chains.
Published by KnowTheChain, a project from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, the benchmark report revealed companies are failing to identify and prevent abuses, with migrant workers – who are frequently hired in food and beverage supply chains – often facing the worst consequences of this inaction. After six years of benchmarking – progress is stagnating in the sector, which is cause for concern, especially against the backdrop of current geo-political and climate crises.
Forced labour incidents and exploitative practices are frequently reported in high-risk commodities such as fish, beans, cattle, coffee, rice, tea, tomato and wheat. But despite this, the report revealed concerning findings:
- Companies perform particularly poorly on when it comes to preventative measures, such as: supporting freedom of association and collective bargaining, incorporating the voices of workers into due diligence processes (9/100) and remedy efforts, including fee repayments and remediating harm to workers (6/100).
- Not nearly enough is being done by companies to address exploitative recruitment practices (13/100), which often leave already vulnerable workers indebted and struggling.
- Companies fail to identify and report human rights risks, despite high-risk sourcing. More than a third (37%) of companies have yet to disclose how they carry out a human rights risk assessment on their supply chains, including meat companies Hormel (9/100), JBS (4/100), Tyson (3/100) and WH Group (0/100).
Despite momentum building for human rights due diligence legislation around the world – which threatens to bring legal, financial and reputational consequences for companies failing to comply – there is a complete absence of a level playing field in the sector when it comes to addressing forced labour exploitation. Only half the benchmarked companies scored more than 10/100, in stark contrast with the top-scoring companies – Australian retailer Woolworths (56/100) and UK supermarket Tesco (52/100) – who nevertheless have significant room for improvement.
Meanwhile, some companies disclosed little to no improvement in the six years KnowTheChain has been assessing them. This included meat companies JBS (4/100) and Tyson (3/100), as well as Coca-Cola bottler FEMSA (3/100). These companies have consistently failed to demonstrate even basic relevant policies and practices to address worker exploitation which is inherent in the sector.
Áine Clarke, Head of KnowTheChain and Investor Strategy, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: “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 – but the critical role played by workers in this sector is not reflected in corporate approaches to protect them. At a time when forced labour risks are being exacerbated by the converging geopolitical, economic and climate crises, it is alarming to see how little is being done by companies to protect the workers in their supply chains.
“Food and beverage companies have no excuse for the lack of action – especially since they know such risks are particularly pertinent in their industry. Instead of improving efforts, we have watched progress stagnate, with the cost-of-living crisis widening the gap between the sector’s profit margins and the working conditions of those who make those profits possible.
“As momentum builds for human rights due diligence legislation around the world, companies must escalate action on forced labour risks in their supply chains – or risk the legal, financial and reputational consequences. If companies in this sector want to get better at identifying and preventing forced labour risks, they must urgently adopt a worker-centric approach to due diligence. This means giving workers and other key stakeholders a seat at the table when it comes to designing, implementing and monitoring processes such as risk assessments, grievance mechanisms and supplier monitoring.”
Notes to editors:
- The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.
- KnowTheChain is a project from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre which acts as a resource for companies and investors to address forced labour in global supply chains, helping them operate more transparently and responsibly.
- According to the International Labour Organisation, there are currently 27.6 million people in situations of forced labour in the world, with agriculture representing the fourth largest share of forced labour by sector globally.