Ethical Sourcing Standard Responds to Growing Consumer Demand

Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 by Allie Gallant

In March of this year, the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI) announced a new Ethical Sourcing Standard that audits businesses and certifies those that source their food ethically and sustainably.

The move comes in response to an increase in exploitive practices in the supply chain over many years and Robert Garfield, Senior Vice-President of SQFI, points to consumer demand as a key driver of the standard. “For companies, receiving this certification shows their customers that sourcing responsibly throughout the supply chain is important,” Garfield says.

Ethical Food Sourcing as Company Culture

Increasingly, companies are becoming certified to demonstrate their good citizenship. Certification is a way for businesses to demonstrate their culture to the public. By engaging in ethical practices, companies earn trust. And if given the chance, consumers want food that’s responsibly grown and produced.

The Standard audits against key risk factors for abuse in the supply chain including:

  • wage compliance
  • child labour
  • occupational health and safety
  • pollution prevention
  • air emissions management and
  • waste management

Supply Chain Practices Affect the Outlook on Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is already a problem. From 2011 to 2013, the UN`s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated there were 842 million undernourished people in the world, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. Floods, droughts and war are a few of the current conditions that exacerbate the issue. But within the global supply chain, unsustainable practices also contribute to the problem.

  • Patenting of seeds and farming techniques, and the associated royalties charged to farmers, can put the cost out of reach of many smallholder farms that create the basis of local food systems.
  • The pressure to manage operational costs can create wage constraints that add to poverty in the global agriculture industry. There are 800 million people working in agriculture worldwide that live below the poverty line.[1]
  • “Land grabbing” – a practice where farmers are forcibly removed from their land without compensation, degrades local food systems and contributes to poverty and unfair working conditions.

Unethical supply chain practices capitalize on weak links that are susceptible to exploitation. Among the hardest hit are primary producers in developing countries. They have the least leverage for choosing their business partners, and they operate in a system that is weighted against them.

Not all companies turn a blind eye to unethical practices. Unilever partners with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to run a sustainable tea value chain that’s been operating for almost 10 years. The company trained farmers and agreed to source its product exclusively from certified farms. They share the profit by paying farmers a premium price. Environmentally and socially, everyone benefits, not just a few.

Knowledgeable Consumers Have the Tools to Demand Ethical Food

Protection from exploitation is something so fundamental that it’s easy to assume that ethically-certified brands will capture a share of the market. Most people have some awareness of the scarcity of resources and threats to social justice around the world. With the heightened communication afforded by social media, consumers are more informed than ever. Companies that take a long-term view of their success will understand that investing in healthy trading partners now will pay off in a loyal customer base later.


[1] “Family farming is the key to alleviating hunger and poverty. Foodtank. 6 August 2013. Web, 1 March 2014.


About the Author

Allie Gallant is a freelance writer and blogger.


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