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PMA virtual town hall

"The Ethical Labor Charters gives us a common conduct as an industry"

Labor is a cornerstone of any industry, but in the fresh produce industry having enough labor at the right time is even more vital for the perishable fruits and vegetables to be harvested properly and brought onto retail shelves with enough time for consumers to purchase and enjoy them.

Labor is, unfortunately, also an area of challenge for many in the industry as they struggle to find enough laborers to help them complete the work. With the outbreak of the pandemic, which has restricted movement of people within and across borders, as well as imposed safety restrictions for migrant workers if and when they do arrive at the farms, the issue of labor has become even more difficult. That is why this week’s PMA virtual town hall focused on the Ethical Labor Charter, which was developed by a group of industry leaders, including Kathy Burns and Tom Stenzel, and was released in February of 2018.

What is the document and why was it created?
Ed Treacy, PMA’s VP of Supply Chain and Sustainability kicked off the session with a brief explanation of what the Ethical Charter entails, saying: “The charter is a mechanism to communicate to current and potential employees that your company is absolutely committed to the following: Respecting laws at work in the areas of legal compliance, occupational safety, health, wage, benefits and working hours; respect for professional conduct in areas of communication and worker protections, ethical recruitment, responsible purchase practices, management systems, and continuous improvement; finally, respect for human rights by ensuring employment is freely chosen, humane treatment, non-harassment, non-discrimination, and protection of children and young workers.”

Brian Kocher, President and CEO of The Castellini Companies, was part of the board that drafted the ethical charter. He explains: “Back in 2015 when we put the board together for this, there were several driving factors. The first was a pressure on the industry for social responsibility auditing. Secondly, the consumer base was increasingly realizing and expressing the urge to address social responsibility issues. Finally, there was a New York Times article that discussed unfair labor practices and the burden that the produce industry carried in this regard. These were the drivers for the creation of this document.”

Adopting and endorsing the Charter
For any company, large or small, it might seem daunting to adopt a charter such as the Ethical Labor Charter, because of the work it could take to implement it throughout their company and throughout their supply chain. Doug Grant, COO of the Oppenheimer Group, explained what it was like to adopt and endorse the Ethical Labor Charter for Oppy: “For us, it was actually quite easy to endorse it because the ethics of the document closely aligned with the values. We took on a real active role with our suppliers and added it to each of the contracts.”

Walmart has also adopted and endorsed the Ethical Labor Charter from the start, and Annabella de Freeman explains: “At the time when the document came together, social responsibility and code of conduct were, and still are, really important issues. It was talked about and addressed throughout the industry, but there were different understandings of what it specifically entails. The purpose of the charter was to provide a common language, so everyone understood the issues in the same manner. For Walmart, it was very important to have a common background, a common code of conduct, and a common language to unite the industry. We are strong advocates of collective action because there are issues that are bigger than just one grower, one farm, or one company. Collective action is a great tool to drive systemic issues, and the Ethical Charter helps us act collectively.”

Why adopt the charter?
Adopting and endorsing a charter such as the Ethical Labor Charter requires some work, not just initially but also throughout the years are companies work to maintain the standards that have been set for them by the charter. So, what benefits does a company gain from adopting the charter? Kocher shares: “The Charter demonstrates that you stand with others in the industry, and it signals your values to key business partners. It addresses concerns of people throughout the supply chain: customers, consumers, and of course the workers.”

For Oppy, the Charter signals their values and their commitment to sustainability. Oppy has a presence throughout the world, working with many different products and growers in many different countries, and therefore their actions and policies have an important influence on individuals throughout the world. Grant shares: “Oppy has such a large global footprint, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that our company has a positive impact, it’s our responsibility to endorse social responsibility and the Charter. Adopting the Charter makes a statement to employees that the company is taking a stand for them and for society, and it says a lot about a company. For us here at Oppy, the charter fits in beautifully with the other sustainability initiatives we are committed to.”

Read more about the Ethical Labor Charter here.

Join next week’s town hall to hear from a panel of business leaders and entrepreneurs that are working on a range of solutions and innovations that address last mile challenges. Click here to sign up.


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