Sugar is an essential ingredient in many of the foods and beverages we produce.
We source both sugarcane and sugar beet, from more than 160 suppliers and 60 countries. Sugarcane harvesting can be dangerous, and labor conditions are often challenging. We are committed to working with our suppliers to help uphold labor rights, for example by tackling child labor risks and seeking fair pay and working conditions for employees. Sugar production can also be associated with deforestation risks.
Our progress toward improving our sugar supply chain
Our approach to ensuring sustainable production of sugar
We have endeavored to ensure our sugar supply chain is assessed deforestation-free and we have reached 99.3% in 2022. We are now committed to improving and maintaining that status. We use a combination of tools, including supply chain mapping, on-the-ground verification and geographic information system (GIS) analysis to assess that the sugar we buy is deforestation-free.
In addition, we aim to source 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.
Assessments have identified a range of challenges in some of the countries where we source sugar, including child labor risks, working and living conditions for sugarcane laborers and environmental challenges like deforestation and agrochemical applications. Together with our suppliers and implementing partners, such as Proforest, we are actively working to address them.
To hold our suppliers and ourselves accountable and drive industry-wide transparency, we have published the list of our Tier 1 sugar suppliers and the list of the mills in our supply chain, along with their countries of origin.
Mapping and assessing our suppliers
We work with Proforest to map our sugar supply chain and assess our suppliers. We have mapped the supply chain back to the sugar mills across our global supply base.
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.
Respecting the human rights and livelihoods of workers and children
During harvest periods in many countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico 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 school 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 several interventions in place to address these risks, with a particular focus on improving conditions for workers and children in Mexico.
Child labor risks in Mexico can be a sensitive issue in the mills due to the way that labor is contracted and how much influence the mills feel they can exert on those who recruit cane cutters. This has made it challenging to establish a clear plan and a more progressive approach is required.
Together with Proforest and its local partner, ABC Mexico, we have been working to address this risk at our supplying mills, including 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.
BSM has developed a corporate policy to help tackle child labor risk in its supply base and implemented programs to identify and address root causes of child labor and to raise awareness about children’s rights among producers, shelters for migrant workers, leaders of cane-cutting teams and mill personnel. The policies have been widely communicated in workers’ shelters and the local community through posters and banners.
With BSM, we are focusing on responsible recruitment, and have implemented a due diligence process to verify the age of workers and prevent children from entering field work.
We work with Proforest to support our major sugar suppliers in Mexico in improving working conditions for cane cutters. This includes ensuring access to sufficient and potable water, hygiene services and emergency equipment.
We are supporting our supplier La Gloria in the rehabilitation of shelters for cane cutters. This work focuses on ventilation, lighting and ensuring the available space is used as efficiently as possible.
Also in La Gloria, we have supported the acquisition and distribution of equipment to improve clean water availability during the harvest season. Additionally, first aid kits have been delivered to mill inspectors and cane-cutting leaders to better address emergencies in the field.
With the support of Proforest, Nestlé and BSM developed a protocol for guiding the improvement of housing infrastructure for migrant workers. Workers are also provided with identification cards which are crucial for providing social security and formally recognize that the workers are employed by BSM’s mills.
We have also supported BSM in the implementation of a hydration program at the Casasano mill in Morelos. The program benefits people in shelters through the delivery of water containers and filters to improve water collection and quality. Additionally, mills have installed mechanisms and distribution equipment to increase access to drinkable water in the field for cane cutters. Hydrating isotonic drinks are also provided during the hottest parts of the harvesting season to prevent dehydration cases.
Collaborating with partners and governments for a sustainable future in sugar
Working with smallholders in the Philippines
We have an ongoing, multi-stakeholder program based on the Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) framework that aims to address sustainability risks and improve sugarcane smallholder livelihoods in the Philippines’ largest sugar-producing region.
Proforest assessments identified various sustainability risks, including child labor. Nestlé and Proforest concluded that the RSS framework could help stakeholders build on existing initiatives and provide clear direction. Since then, we have been actively working on the identified action plan.
In partnership with three independent local mills, each sourcing from a common pool of small cane planters, we introduced activities to address key risks such as child labor, inadequate PPE and cane residue burning, as well as farmers’ needs such as input access and know-how, affordable finance, alternative livelihood support (for example, vegetable gardens) and soil management including irrigation.
Additionally, the RSS introduced the Comprehensive Assistance to Small Holders (CASH) for Farm Productivity Program. As well as facilitating soil analysis tests and providing coaching, the CASH program gives all participating Agrarian Reform Beneficiary Organizations (ARBOs) additional livelihood support, high-yielding varieties cane points and access to other soil fertility initiatives from mills.
In 2022, Nestlé received the Bonsucro Inspire Award for the “Best Social Sustainability Initiative” for the Integrated ARBO Child Labor and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Program, which is a part of the broader RSS initiative. The program focuses on instutitionalizing the prevention of child labor and promoting the appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE) among ARBOs in Negros Occidental, Philippines. The program empowers the leaders of farmer organizations through knowledge building and participatory decision-making to raise awareness on critical social issues in the community. Among the activities conducted are adult-supervised educational projects, such as vegetable gardens or vermicomposting. These activities focus on facilitating communal activities with children to learn useful life skills, while also generating a small income.
Supporting smallholder farms in Thailand
In Thailand, growers are supported by sugar buyers, to develop their operations in line with sustainable sourcing standards, such as the Bonsucro Standard – but launching scalable solutions across thousands of small farms is a challenge.
Verifik8, an innovative technology solution, has been developed by Fairagora Asia to enable farmers to easily share information directly with mills. Farm data is collected via a mobile app before being analyzed and shared with mill extension officers and inspectors for validation. The tool is fully aligned with the Bonsucro Standard (pdf, 1728Kb), making it easier for smallholders to implement improvements that meet the Standard.
Since 2017, we have supported the implementation of a capacity building, training and continuous improvement program in Thailand’s sugarcane sector in partnership with, FairAgora Asia – the makers of Verifik8 – and leading sugar producer Mitr Phol. Through this program farmers are educated in good farming practices.
Nestlé is now working with FairAgora Asia to develop a climate modelling tool to quantify the carbon footprint at farm level of sugarcane production in Thailand. The tool is in its early development stages and Nestlé is working with its key sugar suppliers in Thailand to collect the necessary ground data to validate the tool.
Supporting the development of a sustainable sugar sector in Nigeria
In Nigeria, the government is increasingly focused on developing its sugar sector. Nestlé is engaging with key stakeholders to ensure this is done sustainably.
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 with other suppliers, Proforest assessed SGSE’s adherence to our Responsible Sourcing Standard, including reviewing land rights using Landesa’s LandAssess tool.
In addition, they assessed staff’s capabilities in health, safety and environment practices. An action plan was then implemented that addressed the issues identified.
The same site assessment visit was replicated later in Dangote’s Savannah Sugar Company Limited, located in Numan, Adamawa State, Nigeria. Nestlé, Proforest and both suppliers worked together to develop action plans for gaps identified against our Responsible Sourcing Standard.
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 identified several environmental issues including development on high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS) land. It was likely that land had been converted to sugar growing.
The assessment pointed out a general lack of awareness among staff on how to identify, manage and monitor HCV and HCS areas. Sucrivoire was very open to learning about this, so, together with Proforest, we arranged specific training.
At the end of the training, it was agreed that HCV/HCS assessments will be carried out before all future conversions of land for sugar growing. Nestlé and Proforest will continue their follow up to review the assessment outcomes.