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Sugar is an ingredient used in many of our foods and beverages and sourced from countries around the world, in both cane and sugar beet forms. Sugar harvesting can be dangerous, and labour conditions are often a challenge, as is child labour.
52.2% of our total sugar purchased in 2017 was responsibly sourced
68.5% of our total sugar purchased in 2017 was traceable to its source
Sourcing sugar responsibly
Our sugar supplies mainly comes from Brazil, India (sugar cane), Mexico and Thailand, as well as from the USA (predominantly from sugar beet). However, we also source from a wide range of other countries, including Australia, the Philippines and Colombia for example. Our aim is to ensure that the sugar is sourced from mills where the operations, as well as the farms and plantations that supply them, comply with local laws and regulations and our Responsible Sourcing Guideline (RSG). This includes:
- No use of forced or child labour;
- Workers’ pay and conditions that meet at least legal or mandatory industry standards;
- Respecting freedom of association and collective bargaining, unless prevented by law;
- The provision of safe and healthy workplaces; and
- Mitigating the impacts on water by implementing water management plans, and additional measures in water-stressed areas.
In 2017, KnowtheChain published a report (pdf, 15 Mb) naming Nestlé as one of the three companies in their survey to have made most headway in addressing forced labour in their sugar cane supply chains. The report also noted that we were one of few companies to carry out assessments of forced labour and publish the results, and cited our work to improve grievance mechanisms as best practice.
Find out more about our responsible sourcing of sugar in our video
Supply chain challenges and solutions
Assessments have identified a range of challenges in some of the countries where we source sugar, predominantly in sugar cane. Together with suppliers and implementing partners such as Proforest, we are actively working to address them. The most widespread and serious challenges identified involve safe and healthy living and working conditions for sugar cane labourers, while environmental challenges such as water management are also a concern.
Harvest periods in some countries see large numbers of temporary migrant workers living and working in sugar cane-growing areas. The nature of this labour force accounts for many social risks within the supply chain. These can include: limited access to sanitation and potable water; overcrowding and a lack of personal space and privacy; children not in education and potentially exposed to hazardous conditions; and limited access to safe working practices, such as the appropriate use, storage and disposal of chemicals.
Addressing child labour in the sugar cane supply chain
Many of the agricultural labourers in the sugar cane industry in Mexico are workers from poor and rural areas within Mexico. Those involved in sugarcane may be local to the mill or migratory from other regions where there are limited job opportunities.
Child labour is well documented in Mexican agriculture, predominantly in regions with crops such as sugarcane, lemons, vegetables and coffee. The main reasons for the presence of children in the field can be summarised as a lack of education, high levels of both poverty and underage pregnancy, sometimes as young as 14, and a lack of access to low-risk opportunities of work.
Although there is a lot of pressure from the government, NGOs and others to address child labour, it can be a sensitive issue in the actual mills due to the way that labour is contracted and how influential the mills feel they can be. This has made it challenging to establish a clear plan, and so it became clear that a progressive approach would be required. Together with our global partner Proforest and their local partner, ABC Mexico, we have been working to address this issue at our supplying mills, including La Gloria mill in Veracruz. Initially, the mill has been supported to develop policies together with implementation and monitoring plans. Following this, training and awareness-raising activities in the field have been provided. The aim has been to support La Gloria to develop an approach to reduce the number of children working in the field over time.
The policies that La Gloria has developed state that it is not appropriate or permissible to employ or allow children to be in the field and more specifically involved in harvesting activities of sugarcane. La Gloria has implemented a number of checks, such as ID inspections, to avoid children entering fieldwork or working with chemicals. Information has been shared with local groups and the leaders of the cutting teams who are responsible for activities such as hiring the workers. The team leaders have been trained in what is expected from them and what the relevant laws and sanctions are relating to employing children. This is an ongoing process, with the mill continuing to carry out ID checks and to monitor and train the team leaders to ensure the policies are followed, and that the number of children employed in the field continues to fall.
Working towards responsible sourcing in the Philippines
In February 2017, we launched Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS). This multi-stakeholder programme aims to address sustainability risks and improve livelihoods of sugar cane smallholders in Negros Occidental, the Philippine’s largest sugar-producing region.
There are approximately 35 000 sugar cane smallholders in the region, but poverty is high and the average smallholder’s monthly income is just USD 80. Assessments by Proforest identified sustainability risks, including child labour, which is a long-standing problem. Nestlé and Proforest concluded that the RSS framework could help stakeholders build on existing initiatives and provide clear direction.
With our partners, we have agreed activities around three mills, based on key sustainability risks and farmers’ needs: child labour, inadequate personal protective equipment, cane residue burning, input access and know-how, affordable finance, alternative livelihood support and soil management. Results so far include the following:
- 33 villagers trained as child rights advocates;
- 598 farmers reached by 16 child labour awareness-raising events; and
- 21 locations displaying child labour posters.
- 324 farming households have received business training and support.
Sustainable farming practices
- Four showcase plots established to demonstrate sustainable farming;
- 314 farmers attended training seminars; and
- Soil sampling programme begun.
The project is now looking at improving access for farmers and workers to protective personal equipment, awareness raising on safety and health, and access to affordable finance. It is sending a clear message that sustainability is not only a priority, but is achievable through collaboration.
Deforestation and biodiversity loss
Our ‘no deforestation’ commitment (pdf, 200 Kb) and support for the Consumer Goods Forum’s ambition for zero net deforestation by 2020 are also relevant in the sugar supply chain. We are developing and sharing tools to enable smallholder farmers to avoid deforestation and the loss of natural vegetation, and finding ways to help them manage water consumption. The remediation activities are implemented in conjunction with a network of local delivery partners in specific countries who can bring additional local knowledge to the process.
We work with Proforest to assess our suppliers and map our sugar supply chain. So far, we have mapped the supply chains back to the sugar mills and their supply bases across a wide number of countries/regions, including Brazil, Mexico, India, Australia, Thailand and Central America. The assessment process includes exploratory and full site visits, analysis of traceability and employment data, and supplier workshops. Findings inform the development of strategies for mills to improve practices, implement changes and roll out appropriate training across their supply bases.
Partnering to drive scale
Since August 2017, we’ve been working in partnership with PepsiCo in Thailand to reach our goal of sustainable, responsible sourcing of sugar. The programme aims to reach more than 300 000 smallholders, helping to increase their understanding of the need for sustainable and responsible cane-sugar practices. Most of the participating farmers were unaware of Bonsucro production standards before the programme started. There are three phases to the project:
Phase 1: Create a continuous improvement system for sustainable agriculture, stakeholder mapping, and inclusion of farmers to help them develop and support the programme;
Phase 2: Knowledge transfer for sustainable and responsible impact, and farm assessments; and
Phase 3: Continuous improvement of the programme, creation of an effective feedback loop, and the development of a roadmap for farmers to attain Bonsucro certification.
The first group of farmers has been identified, and a web-app platform was deployed in December for the initial training.
Addressing child labour
Working with Proforest, we support mills to address child labour where it has been identified. It is important that mills develop and tailor their own programmes for their specific supply base. Proforest provides the technical support to assess the robustness of the plans and then verify in the field whether or not they are being implemented effectively.
“The CRA training increased my knowledge and awareness regarding child rights, as well as the responsibilities of a child and of the parents. With those things learned and experienced, the first time I facilitated a community tipon-tipon (gathering) in my co-operative, I felt nervous but confident because I was trained, and excited because I am officially an active child rights advocate. After the CTT, I noticed a positive change within our co-op. Parents now try their best to send their children to school and no longer let them help out on the sugar cane farm.”
Anonymous sugar cane farmer, Negros Occidental