3 ways sustainable supply chains can build better business in a post-COVID world

plant

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ruth Rennie, Director of Standards and Assurance, Rainforest Alliance


  • Building more sustainable, resilient supply chains can help the world emerge healthier from COVID-19.
  • Sustainability certifications are a proven way to improve supply chains’ economic and environmental performance.
  • But producers must share the burdens involved in making this shift alongside the farmers themselves.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world in profound and unexpected ways. More than nine million people have fallen ill from the virus and nearly 500,000 have died from it. The livelihoods of millions of farmers and workers have suffered, normal business has been disrupted, and the impacts continue to rise as the virus shifts to new regions.

The jury is still out on how severe and lasting the economic damage will be, or whether the pandemic will spur urgently needed action on climate change, rising inequality and sustainable development. One thing we can all agree on is that ‘normal’ will look different going forward.

The pandemic has focused attention on how dependent we all are on what happens in other parts of the world for the products we use every day. As businesses look to reinvigorate their operations after the crisis, current innovations in sustainability certification can help build more resilient supply chains through a stronger focus on continuous improvement, transparency and shared responsibility.

Here are three ways to do just that:

1. Measure continuous improvement to help farmers and companies mitigate risks and build resilience

In May this year, CEOs from 155 global brands, including Mars, Nestlé and Unilever, set out their commitments to invest in recovery and resilience for a systemic socio-economic transformation. The severe economic impacts of COVID-19 have amplified public opinion and consumer preference for responsible businesses. Already in the past decade, record numbers of businesses have acknowledged that long-term commercial viability cannot exist without social and environmental sustainability. Many companies have turned to sustainability certification as an effective way of building resilient supply chains and ensuring their long-term viability.

Independent research shows that certification has a positive environmental, social and economic impact. Credible third-party certification systems enable businesses to demonstrate their commitment to tackling deforestation, protecting natural resources, and contributing towards a living income and decent work to producers and workers across the world. These benefits of certification explain why, in 2017, certified production accounted for 16% of the total area under cultivation for tea and almost a quarter of global cocoa and coffee production areas.

Recent innovations in sustainability certification focus on meeting the challenge laid down by the CEOs to “reimagine a better future grounded in bold climate action”. For instance, credible certification is moving beyond simple pass/fail criteria, and towards measuring continuous improvement. To achieve more impact, sustainability certification should focus more on supporting farmers and companies in identifying and mitigating context-specific sustainability risks, driving improved performance, and building resilience. Sustainability is not an endpoint – it’s a journey. Sustainability certification must become the vehicle that supports and accompanies whole supply chains throughout that journey.

Deforestation in the Amazon has risen sharply in recent years
Deforestation in the Amazon has risen sharply in recent years
Image: The Economist

2. Be transparent and accountable: what you see is what you get

COVID-19-related disruptions to global supply chains have also focused attention on the preference of consumers and businesses to know where their products come from. A recent article in The Economist identified the need to make global food systems more transparent, traceable and accountable so that diseases are less likely to jump undetected from animal to human. The article pointed to certification and quality standards as important tools for achieving this.

Certification systems are now developing a wider and more innovative set of tools that allow producers, consumers, and companies to track agricultural products from farm to fork. Traceability systems are being strengthened to show where products originate and how they move through the supply chain so that sustainability risks can be continuously identified and investments made to address them. Satellite imagery is increasingly being used to monitor deforestation and other environmental risks such as water use and erosion, which threaten farmer productivity and incomes and which put the long-term viability of entire agricultural supply chains at risk. These kinds of data-driven risk assessment and improvement approaches will be key to building up more resilient and sustainable supply chains.

3. Share the benefits and the costs of sustainable production

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the stark inequalities within and between countries – which the economic impact of the pandemic will almost certainly exacerbate. The expected global downturn could push millions into poverty in the coming years, with those in low-income groups and poor countries disproportionately affected.

When producers lose income, there is a greater risk of child labour, forced labour, and other human rights abuses in global supply chains. Deforestation can rise as farmers look for more fertile land to increase their earnings. Where farmers cannot earn a living income from producing critical commodities, young people are more likely to abandon farming altogether, putting the long-term viability of some supply chains at risk.

Certification is a key tool for farmers and companies to show they are taking steps to address sustainability. But the burden of making agricultural production more sustainable cannot rest on the shoulders of producers alone. Certification systems must both enable and oblige buyers to share the responsibility to invest in and reward sustainable production.

Research has shown that certification is most successful in improving livelihoods and protecting nature when farmers receive the support and investments they need to implement more sustainable practices. Certification systems must proactively leverage their data on sustainability risks and performance to help companies build resilient supply chains by targeting investments in sustainable production.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Halting deforestation is essential to avoiding the worst effects of global climate change.

The destruction of forests creates almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as global road travel, and yet it continues at an alarming rate.

In 2012, we brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and South-East Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to facilitate investment in systemic change.

The Alliance, made up of businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people, communities and international organizations, helps producers, traders and buyers of commodities often blamed for causing deforestation to achieve deforestation-free supply chains.

The Commodities and Forests Agenda 2020, summarizes the areas in which the most urgent action is needed to eliminate deforestation from global agricultural supply chains.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is gaining ground on tackling deforestation linked to the production of four commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

Get in touch to join our mission to halt to deforestation.

One organization already rising to this challenge is the Rainforest Alliance. This month the organization revealed its new seal, which represents the merger of two major agricultural certification standards, UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance. Farmers producing ingredients used in products that carry the new seal are on a pathway of continuous improvement, transparency, and shared responsibility.

On June 30, 2020, the organization releases its new Sustainable Agriculture Standard, incorporating new tools to support producers and companies in setting clear sustainability targets and focusing investments to improve positive impacts for people and nature. Innovations like these are timely tools to support more resilient agriculture and make responsible business the new normal in a COVID-19 world.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

How technology can help us achieve universal healthcare

Manufacturing reimagined: from improved productivity to profitable growth

Venezuela: MEPs demand free presidential elections and an end to repression

Carbon neutrality and funds for EU programmes are EP priorities for EU summit

International community has achieved unprecedented success fighting offshore tax evasion

ECOFIN: Choosing between the re-unification of Eurozone and a stalemate

Why the way of loving closes doors of health?

“One Belt One Road”: Its relevance to the European Companies

Brussels enraged with Swiss referendum result to keep out EU citizens

Vote at 16 in Malta: next stop Europe

GSMA Mobile 360 Series –Digital Societies, in association with The European Sting

The entire Australian state of New South Wales is in drought

Climate change and health – can medical students be the solution?

Industrial products: Lifting the last impediments in the EU single market

It’s time to end our ‘separate but unequal’ approach to mental health

State aid: Commission refers Greece to Court for failure to recover incompatible State aid from mining company Larco

Cultural diversity can drive economies. Here are lessons from India and South Asia

EU Budget 2020 deal: Investing more in climate action, youth and research

‘All atrocity crimes are preventable’ and can never be justified – UN chief

Trying to cure bank cancer with analgesics

Sassoli: Migration agreement respects fundamental principles of Parliament’s proposal

The invisible L word: the struggles to achieve SRHR, as HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment for lesbian population

Ceasefire holds in Tripoli, but core problems remain, says UN Libya mission chief

UN underscores the need to celebrate indigenous peoples, not confine them

This is how wellbeing drives social change and why cultural leaders need to talk about it

Impact of high debt levels on least developed countries ‘cannot be overstated’, says UN

YouTube stars get creative at UN, to promote tolerance

Gender minority and health sector: promoting mental health with better medical education

EU Parliament raises burning issues over the FTA with the US

Everybody against Japan over yen’s devaluation

LGBTQI+ and medicine, in the Land of the Pure

JADE Spring Conference 2018 is on its way: Young entrepreneurs gather in Brussels to shape Europe

EU: Huge surplus in the trade of services with the rest of the world

The success story of a Chinese investment in the Greek port of Piraeus

Christmas spending: Who can afford not to cut?

The staggering loss of the Arctic Ocean’s oldest sea ice shown in time-lapse

Blockchain is not a magic bullet for security. Can it be trusted?

Capital Markets Union: Commission reports on progress achieved ahead of European Council

Who really cares about the 26.2 million of EU jobless?

Four major resources for new European young entrepreneurs

Why gin made from peas helps the environment

FROM THE FIELD: Argentina Preserving Pristine Forests

Sustainability, peace, security ‘best guarantee against instability’ Guterres to Security Council

Empowering people living with HIV ‘will end the epidemic’, says AIDS agency chief

Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino died – here are more species on the verge of extinction

Foreign direct investments the success secrete of Eurozone

Migrant workers sent more money to India than any other country last year

What does artificial intelligence do in medicine?

Cameron postpones speech in Holland

Aid funding for Occupied Palestinian Territories at ‘all-time low’

Bias in AI is a real problem. Here’s what we should do about it

EU is officially in recession

UN honours peacekeepers who ‘paid the ultimate price’, for the sake of others

Climate action ‘both a priority and a driver of the decade’: Guterres

EU’s VAT system further equipped to tackle fraud in e-commerce and to help small businesses grow

Minority governments ‘à la mode’ in Europe but can they last long?

5G will change the world – but who will keep it safe?

How ‘savings circles’ empower women in rural Africa

Opening – February plenary session, 27 new seats

Can cybersecurity offer value for money?

More Stings?

Advertising

Trackbacks

  1. […] 3 ways sustainable supply chains can build better business in a post-COVID world  The European Sting […]

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s