“A basic tenet of a healthy democracy is open dialogue and transparency”, Peter Fenn. While Governments worldwide are striving to establish transparency in politics, we at Fairfood International are working to establish transparency in the food and beverage industry. With an estimated 9 billion people to feed in 2050, a transparent and fair industry is absolutely crucial, not only for consumers but for the sustenance of the companies and the people who work for them too.
But what exactly is transparency? And how can the food industry achieve this?
There is much ambiguity surrounding the word. But very simply – transparency refers to the full disclosure of information about rules, procedures and practices at all levels within food production and supply chains.
We, at Fairfood International, are concerned about the clarity with which food and beverage companies’ present information to the public, regarding the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption and disposal of their products.
To ensure companies are responding to the concerns of people and the environment, information needs to be made readily available to the public. Particularly to those who are affected by the actions of companies, its stakeholders. Furthermore this information must be timely, relevant, accurate and complete for it to be used effectively.
In order to aid companies to achieve this and to help various stakeholders understand transparency and its various aspects, we will delve into the world of transparency and explore its various aspects. The online series will be called Open up!
In the interests of people and planet
With our ever increasing world population, industrialised agriculture has been seen as a means to provide food on a large scale, cheaply and efficiently. However, given that this food system is geared towards a production model that requires maximising efficiency by lower consumer costs and increased overall production, constantly lowering production expenses to achieve these ends often leads to societal and environmental implications. The degradation of ecosystems, (resulting in climate change is one example) and cases of child labour and deplorable working conditions are but a few of many examples. Such examples have led to an increase in public demand for transparency in the food industry and in other industries.
We have been witness to news and various campaigns that have identified how the production of some goods has affected the welfare of animals, social justice issues and environmental concerns, and the need for food companies to change their ways.
We also see that companies that share their assessments and plan with the public and seek their views on a regular basis can be far more effective in business when they involve their stakeholders in their decision-making processes. Undoubtedly, transparency can help to stimulate active engagement of the public in the business sector; reaping rewards for everyone: stakeholders and companies alike.
An enlightened global economy
Encouraging companies, that are not already transparent, to become transparent involves a two-pronged approach: one is to focus on disclosure of data, this involves the use of an information system that makes all the data on a supply chain available to the public; and the second is education-based policies, these enable companies to understand the consequences of their actions.
Certifications and labels have been and continue to be useful in building a more sustainable economy. The use of certification and/or use of food labels for products provide consumers with an independent form of assurance about the methods used to produce a product. Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council, Fairtrade and USDA organic certification are just some examples of a plethora of certifications and labels that are currently in use. Nonetheless, it is seen that certifications and labels have been created so that organisations and market systems are sustainable; however, certifications are not the one-stop shop to sustainability.
Throughout our series, we hope to see new business models emerge, and sustainable practices become the standard in the food and beverage industry, reflecting the requirements of a global economy that is built on the foundation of transparency.
Image: World Bank Group (CC licensed)