What tops the food industry CSR agenda?

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

What tops the food industry CSR agenda?
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting is increasing rapidly in the United States, and as more companies get on board, the most important food industry-specific issues are becoming better defined, according to a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) expert.

GRI is a non-profit organization promoting economic sustainability, and provides some of the most widely used standards for CSR reporting. Bastian Buck, senior manager of reporting framework at GRI, told FoodNavigator-USA that the GRI worked with stakeholders in the food industry to develop sector-specific CSR guidance, published in 2010, and its publication sparked a boost in food industry reporting.

“There was interest from the industry,”​ he said. “It is an industry with a signification sustainability impact, and there are a number of key sector-specific issues.”

From sourcing to biodiversity

Buck said that sourcing practices have been top of the agenda for food and beverage companies, and as more companies have filed reports – and have started reporting more regularly – it has become easier to identify the most relevant supply chain issues in the sector.

“Apart from sourcing practices, another issue that is high on the list is human rights and labor rights,”​ he said. “Going forward, I think biodiversity will also emerge as an important issue…For biodiversity, it is a direction that is supported from almost all constituencies. There is a business side to it; investors are looking at it; and it is also being discussed as a key issue at the G20 in Brazil.

“Labor rights are primarily being driven by a UN general secretary mandate […] acknowledging the role companies have in respecting human rights.”

The importance of a document…

According to the GRI’s sustainability disclosure database, 157 companies in the food and beverage sector completed sustainability reports in 2011 – and that number has grown steadily. Just ten years earlier, only three food and beverage companies were included in the database. However, there was a strong surge in the year after the GRI published its food industry reporting guidance, more than doubling from 71 companies in 2009, the year before publication.

“You can see an increase for all sectors, and an increase that’s supported by the fact that we have a document,”​ Buck said. “Having a document definitely helps to drive more reporting.”

He added that while European companies in general have been engaged in sustainability reporting for longer than those in the US, more and more American companies are getting on board.

“You are seeing a shift toward more CSR reporting in the US,”​ he said. “The more the GRI framework is adopted, the greater the impacts.”

The GRI reporting guidance document for the food and beverage industry is available to download here​.

Related topics: Market Trends, Sustainability

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