Equitable Food Initiative, the workforce development and certification organization that partners with growers, farmworkers, retailers, and consumer groups, announced a two-year, $2 million grant from the Walmart Foundation to support the implementation of the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices. For this project, EFI is partnering with The Sustainability Consortium to help growers and suppliers strengthen the management systems they need to uphold the principles of the Ethical Charter.
The grant builds on a successful pilot program from 2019-2021 with four buyers, 20 suppliers, and 40 growers that tested the use of a self-assessment questionnaire and supporting resources to help growers identify and improve the management systems they need to support robust labor practices.
This grant funds the next stage of work with the creation of the Ethical Charter Implementation Program to further improve and expand this approach, allowing more growers, their suppliers, and buyers to engage in continuous improvement of working conditions. An initial cohort of suppliers and their growers will be invited to engage in the program in early 2023, and over time it will become available to any grower supplying fresh produce to the North American market.
A joint committee made up of suppliers and buyers from the Produce Marketing Association, and the United Fresh Produce Association led industry dialogue and invited public comment to craft the Ethical Charter. The charter was adopted in July 2018 and offers an industry framework for accountability and transparency related to respect for laws at work, respect for professional conduct, and respect for human rights. Since then, more than 500 industry organizations have endorsed the Ethical Charter.
“Since the Ethical Charter was launched, EFI has worked with buyers and growers to develop scalable, supplier-owned strategies to build the capacity of employers to strengthen their policies and procedures regarding management of their workforce,” remarked Peter O’Driscoll, executive director at EFI. “Rather than an audit-based approach to compliance, this program will focus on self-assessment, capacity-building, and measurement of continuous improvement as the most effective ways to advance responsible labor practices at scale.”
Since the launch of the Ethical Charter, EFI has worked with a group of retailers, including Kroger and McDonald’s USA, as well as suppliers and other partners, to support the field-level application of charter principles.
The Walmart Foundation grant supports further development of the grower self-assessment questionnaire and capacity-building resources, along with data systems for reporting. EFI’s collaboration with TSC will allow suppliers to share aggregated updates on grower and continuous supplier improvement through TSC’s The Sustainability Insight System (THESIS) platform.
“The Ethical Charter sets out guiding principles around responsible labor practices that seek to strengthen the dignity of agricultural workers and improve practices in global supply chains,” commented Gavin Bailey, program officer, Walmart.org team. “The Walmart Foundation is pleased to fund the next iteration of this work aimed at supporting the industry to implement the Ethical Charter, unlock the full potential of the initiative, and strengthen protections for agricultural workers.”
TSC CEO Dr. Christy Slay stated, “TSC is proud to work with EFI to help growers and suppliers continue to improve their practices and grow their capacity to fully implement the Ethical Charter. TSC’s mission is to make all products sustainable. This begins with helping growers achieve more responsible labor practices through science-based assessments so that they can demonstrate improvement within the industry.”
O’Driscoll concluded by saying, “EFI is delighted to receive this grant from the Walmart Foundation as a transformative opportunity to improve the lives of the essential workers on whom the produce industry depends. We will work with other produce leaders to co-create resources that support the continuous improvement of labor practices and that ultimately benefit the entire produce industry. Both EFI and TSC are multistakeholder organizations committed to strategies that create value for all participants. In the Ethical Charter Implementation Program, we see a tremendous opportunity to work with buyers, suppliers, growers, and workers to strengthen the systems that support responsible labor practices.”