Sugar is an essential ingredient in many foods. We source it from countries around the world, in both cane and sugar beet forms. Sugar harvesting can be dangerous, and labor conditions are often challenging.
Our sugar supply chain
Our sugar supplies mainly come from India (from sugarcane), Brazil, Mexico and Thailand, as well as from the US (predominantly from sugar beet). However, we also source from a wide range of other countries, including Australia, the Philippines and Colombia.
Our approach to sourcing sugar sustainably
Our aim is to ensure that our 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 Standard (pdf, 2.4Mb). This includes:
- No use of forced or child labor.
- Workers’ pay and conditions that at least meet legal or mandatory industry standards.
- Respecting freedom of association and collective bargaining, unless prevented by law.
- The provision of safe and healthy workplaces.
- Mitigating the impacts on water by implementing water management plans, and additional measures in water-stressed areas.
Assessments have identified a range of challenges in some of the countries where we source sugar, including working and living conditions for sugarcane laborers as well as environmental challenges like deforestation. Together with our suppliers and implementing partners such as Proforest, we are actively working to address them.
Working with sustainable suppliers
We work with Proforest to assess our suppliers and map our sugar supply chain. So far, we have mapped the supply chain back to the sugar mills and their supply bases across a wide number of countries/regions, including Brazil, Mexico, India, Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, China and Central America. The assessment process includes exploratory and full site visits and analysis of traceability and employment data. Findings inform the development of strategies for mills to improve practices, implement changes and roll out appropriate training across their supply bases.
To hold our suppliers and ourselves accountable as well as driving industry-wide transparency, we have published the list of our sugar Tier 1 suppliers and mills in our supply chain (pdf, 0.4Mb), along with the country of origin.
In 2018, KnowTheChain published a report (pdf, 0.5Mb) naming Nestlé as one of the five top-scoring companies in its survey in addressing forced labor in sugarcane supply chains. As well as noting our progress, the report also noted that we were one of few companies to outline the steps we and our suppliers had taken to address any allegations of forced labor.
Committing to no deforestation
In 2010, we made a ‘deforestation-free’ commitment for our supply chains, stating that all of our products, globally, will not be associated with deforestation by 2020. For the last 10 years, we have been using a combination of tools, including supply chain mapping, certification and on-the-ground verification, to ensure that the sugar that we buy is not linked to deforestation. As of March 2020, 85% of the sugar that we buy was verified deforestation-free (pdf, 200 Kb). We will continue to work with smallholder farmers and large suppliers alike to close the gap.
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.
Partnering to drive scale
Since August 2017, we have been working in partnership with PepsiCo in Thailand to reach our goal of sustainable, responsible sourcing of sugar. The program aims to reach more than 300 000 smallholders, helping to increase their understanding of the need for sustainable and responsible sugarcane practices. Most of the participating farmers were unaware of Bonsucro production standards before the program 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 program.
- Phase 2: Knowledge transfer for sustainable and responsible impact, and farm assessments.
- Phase 3: Continuous improvement of the program, creation of an effective feedback loop and 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 2017 for the initial training.
Supporting the development of a sustainable sugar sector in Nigeria
Nigeria is an important market for Nestlé, and engagement with local suppliers started in 2018.
In 2019, our partner Proforest conducted two supplier assessments to better understand the current situation and to support our local suppliers.
The Sunti Golden Sugar Estate (SGSE) is one of Nestlé’s suppliers in Nigeria and one of the largest producers of sugar in the country. As part of the site assessments, Proforest measured:
- The site’s operations against the Nestlé Responsible Sourcing Standard.
- Land rights issues, using the new Landesa LandAssess tool, which is a risk assessment and management framework. It provides a clear and simple set of checklists that generates a report to help agricultural companies assess and manage how they respect land rights.
- Capacity building for SGSE’s staff on health, safety and the environment.
The land rights assessment helped to identify some issues and areas for improvement, including the need to establish a land use plan that secures rights of communities within the operation areas, as well as strengthening the stakeholder engagement process.
We provided health, safety and environment (HSE) training and also took into account some of the initial observations made by the team on-site, including on the use of personal protective equipment
Communities engaged expressed their appreciation for the process, since they had been mostly engaging directly with the company, with occasional intervention from government agencies. They hoped that this process by an independent external party would have more impact on addressing their issues.
SGSE’s HSE management team expressed particular gratitude for the staff capacity-building. They indicated that although they had been carrying out routine HSE training, the input from an external organization would reinforce their efforts.
In 2020, Nestlé, Proforest and SGSE will work together to develop a continuous improvement plan.
Protecting land in Côte d’Ivoire
A site assessment at Sucrivoire’s operations in Zuénoula and Borotou-Koro, Côte d’Ivoire against Nestlé’s Responsible Sourcing Standard (pdf, 2.4Mb) identified a number of environmental issues to be addressed. These included a lack of assessments during previous land clearances and development on high-conservation-value (HCV) and high-carbon-stock (HCS) land. As a result, it was likely that some of these areas of land had been converted to sugar growing.
It was clear from the assessment that there was a significant lack of awareness among staff of how to identify, manage and monitor HCV and HCS areas. Sucrivoire was very interested and open to learn about this, so, together with Proforest, we arranged specific training on the basics of HCV/HCS, what those areas are and how to identify and protect them. Ten employees from the two milling sites took part in the training, which featured interactive, classroom-based activities as well as practical field visits to ecological sites.
At the end of the training, participants briefed a Sucrivoire Zuénoula director about the lessons learned and how they planned to incorporate them into their operations. It was agreed that HCV/HCS assessments of operations and subsequent developments will be carried out before all future conversions of land to sugar growing.
In 2020, Proforest will conduct follow-up visits as well as providing further capacity-building activities and support to Sucrivoire. The approach and interventions are always customized to the different needs identified for the various sites, since there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Protecting children and workers
During harvest periods in many countries, such as China, Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico, Nigeria and Thailand, 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. We have a number of interventions in place to address these issues, with a particular focus on improving conditions for workers and children in Mexico.
Tackling child labor in Mexico
Although there is a lot of pressure from the government, non-governmental organizations and others to address child labor in Mexico, 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 toward those who recruit cane cutters. This has made it challenging to establish a clear plan, and a more progressive approach has been required. Together with Proforest and its local partner, ABC Mexico, we have been working to address this issue at our supplying mills, La Gloria mill in Veracruz and Grupo Beta San Miguel (BSM). The mills were initially supported in developing policies together with implementation and monitoring plans, followed by training and awareness-raising activities in the field. The aim has been to support the mills to develop an approach to reduce the number of children working in the field over time.
La Gloria has also implemented a number of checks, such as ID inspections, to avoid children entering field work or working with chemicals, as well as training leaders of the cane-cutting teams in the relevant laws and sanctions relating to employing children. These actions have seen a continual decline in the number of children employed in the field.
Improving living conditions for Mexico’s migrant workers
Every harvest season, the La Gloria sugarcane mill hires around 2000 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.
Through assessments with Proforest and ABC Mexico, 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.
After raising money to rehabilitate five shelters for more than 300 workers in 2017 and 2018, we took this work further in 2019 by supporting La Gloria in the development of a financing mechanism for the rehabilitation of additional shelters over the next five years. The plan is to add at least two additional shelters per year, as well as training workers on coexistence, hygiene, security and order.
We also worked with Proforest to support one of our major sugar suppliers in Mexico, BSM. We have supported BSM in the implementation of two programs: a hydration program for cane cutters in Casasano mill in Morelos and a recruitment program for cane cutters in El Potrero mill in Veracruz. We have improved the access to drinkable water for 700 cane cutters and their families, both in shelters and in the field, and implemented practices to improve the recruitment process for more than 3000 cane cutters.
Working with smallholders in the Philippines
Our ongoing, multi-stakeholder program based on the Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) framework aims to address sustainability risks and improve the livelihoods of sugarcane smallholders in Negros Occidental, the Philippines’ 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 (a little over CHF 80). Assessments by Proforest identified sustainability risks, including child labor, which is a longstanding 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 know-how, affordable finance, alternative livelihood support and soil management. Results so far are shown in the following table.
|Support provided||2019||Cumulative since 2017|
|Child labor and personal protective equipment (PPE)|
|Number of farmers receiving awareness and training on children’s rights and child labor||669 (62% women)||2366 (69% women)|
|Farmers receiving PPE awareness and training||884 (52% women)||4376 (41% women)|
|PPE sets distributed||869||2458|
|Farming households receiving business training and support||236||821|
|Farmers receiving training on home-based income-generating activities||290 (64% women)||N/A*|
|Yield improvement and good agricultural practices|
|Farmers receiving agricultural training||351||1520|
|Farmers receiving technical support in soil management||86 (64% women)||N/A*|
*New projects in 2019
Looking ahead, the project will focus on increasing farmers’ capacity to improve productivity and support their livelihoods, provide access for farmers and workers to personal protective equipment, raise awareness on health and safety and improve child labor awareness and advocacy of remediation.
Read more about our commitment to implement responsible sourcing in our supply chain.