Supply chain challenges and solutions
Assessments have identified a range of challenges in some of the countries where we source sugar, predominantly in sugarcane. 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 sugarcane laborers; environmental challenges such as water management are also a concern.
How we’re improving labor conditions in our supply chain
During harvest periods in some countries, large numbers of temporary migrant workers live and work in sugarcane growing areas. The nature of this labor 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.
Tackling child labor in our supply chain
Working with Proforest, we support mills to address child labor where it has been identified. It is important that mills develop and tailor their own programs for their specific supply base. Proforest provides the technical support to assess the robustness of the plans and then verify in the field whether 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 sugarcane farm.
Anonymous sugarcane farmer, Negros Occidental
Addressing child labor in Mexico
Many of the agricultural laborers in the sugarcane industry in Mexico are workers from poor and rural areas within Mexico. Those involved in sugarcane may be local to the mill or may have migrated from other regions where there are limited job opportunities.
Child labor 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 summarized 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 work opportunities.
Although there is a lot of pressure from the government, NGOs and others to address child labor, it can be a sensitive issue in the actual mills due to the way that labor 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. The mill was initially supported in developing 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 children or allow them to be in the field and more specifically involved in the harvesting activities of sugarcane. La Gloria has implemented a number of checks, such as ID inspections, to avoid children entering field work 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.
Supporting the migrant workers at La Gloria’s sugar mill with housing
Every harvest season, the La Gloria sugarcane mill hires around 2 000 cane cutters. These are usually migrant workers, from Puebla and Veracruz. They are organized into groups of 30–60 cutters and are housed in 39 shelters provided by the cane growers’ association.
In 2014, we worked with Proforest and ABC Mexico to assess whether the companies we worked with were fully implementing our Responsible Sourcing Standards. We found that the shelters provided at the La Gloria mill were in poor condition: unsafe, unhealthy and insufficient. These included people sleeping on floors, a lack of ventilation and illumination, and only one bathroom and shower for 60 people.
We developed a strategy to address this, by raising awareness, rehabilitating shelters, and helping cutters and their families to manage the shelters themselves.
In 2017, we contributed USD 70 000 (CHF 70 980) to rehabilitate the three shelters in the worst condition – the mill and the cane growers’ association provided a similar amount. Benefiting 180 migrant cutters, the work improved illumination and ventilation, provided beds and mattresses, built bathrooms, and provided laundry services and areas for food preparation. This provided a model for what housing should look like at La Gloria.
In 2018, we rehabilitated two more shelters, benefiting 120 cutters and four women. We also trained 37 leaders at the mill’s operation – including inspectors, coordinators, technical assistants and mill staff – on how to stay on top of this issue, establish commitments and develop better leadership skills.
Between December 2018 and March 2019, we are also working on the project’s most crucial element: supporting cutters and their families to manage the shelters themselves. We are doing this by training them to develop rules for coexistence and systems for hygiene, security and order.
Working toward responsible sourcing in the Philippines
In February 2017, we launched a multistakeholder program based on the Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) framework, with the aim of addressing sustainability risks and improving livelihoods of sugarcane smallholders in Negros Occidental, the Philippine’s largest sugar-producing region.
There are approximately 35 000 sugarcane smallholders in the region, but poverty is high and the average smallholder household’s monthly income is just USD 80 (CHF 81.12). Assessments by Proforest identified sustainability risks, including child labor, 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.
In partnership with three independent local mills, each sourcing from a common pool of small cane planters, we have agreed activities to address key sustainability risks and farmers’ needs: child labor, inadequate personal protective equipment, cane residue burning, input access and knowhow, affordable finance, alternative livelihood support and soil management. Results so far include:
- 773 farmers (72% women) trained in child labor.
- 958 sets of PPE distributed.
- 324 farming households received business training and support.
- 321 farmers (approximately 48% women) received agricultural training.
The project is now looking at improving access for farmers and workers to personal protective equipment, awareness raising on health and safety, and access to affordable finance. It is sending a clear message that sustainability is not only a priority, but is achievable through collaboration.
Read more about our commitment to implement responsible sourcing in our supply chain.
Deforestation and biodiversity loss