Event Insights: Partner Africa Agriculture Responsible Business Forum

On Thursday, 4 May Partner Africa hosted a Responsible Business Forum in Somerset West, Cape Town for the agriculture industry in South Africa.

Partner Africa's Agriculture Responsible Business Forum brought together industry experts and practitioners from the Western Cape, South Africa, to discuss key issues around social, environmental, and food safety in the agriculture sector. The forum highlighted the need for the integration of people and the environment, emphasising the importance of sustainability and ethical practices in the industry.

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We were thrilled to welcome an incredible panel of speakers:

  • Margareet Visser, UCT Researcher – The impact of the EU Directive in the social context
  • Piet Badenhorst, Cluver Markotter Attorneys – What is an unlawful occupier and the strategies to deal with unlawful occupation
  • Anél Blignaut, Blue North – Addressing the importance for importers, producers and other stakeholders in the fresh produce supply chain to understand carbon emissions measurement, reporting and actions to ensure business sustainability
  • Brian Windsor, GLOBALG.A.P. Senior Technical Expert – GLOBALG.A.P.’s role in responsible farming: an overview of Standards and add-ons

Emerging Industry Trends

As presented by Partner Africa Executive Director, Sara Clancy, the global conversation has shifted over the last ten years from ESG to human rights, with the UN developing a framework for Business and Human Rights (BHR). The forum emphasised the need for legislation and markets to report to the government on human rights and social issues, with a strong focus on including the lived experiences of workers in the development of Standards. There is a massive trend in most of Africa, where workers sue companies for cases of human rights, especially sexual harassment, which is difficult to pick up in audits.

On the topic of audits, Kathy O’Grady, a Partner Africa team member and one of the most experienced auditors in South Africa, provided local and international audit insights, with discussions around social audits and its methods.

The animal welfare issue, particularly for retailers in the dairy and chicken sector, was also discussed. The forum emphasised the need for a macro-level conversation on environmental issues and suppliers’ access to resources.

The forum discussed emerging trends in government and their role in protecting worker rights. Companies are introducing Standards for the local market, and global North agendas are shifting South. The forum highlighted the need for companies to respect human rights and use Human Rights Impact Assessments to measure the impact of their operations.

While the forum identified pertinent issues in the agriculture sector, and many initiatives have been undertaken to identify issues globally, there is still a great need for more companies to take action and address them. The forum encouraged companies to work at the sector level to address these issues and emphasised the need for audits, impact assessments, and gathering quality worker data as part of beginning to address these issues.

Implications of the EU Directive: Facing Hard Truths & A Call To Action

Margareet Visser, a researcher at the Labour, Development and Governance research unit (LDG) at the University of Cape Town, delved into many of the harsh truths we need to face as a society, and certainly across all sectors around the globe.

  • Despite the development of the corporate social responsibility industry, little has changed. Tragedies like the Rana Plaza Collapse in Bangladesh still occur, and most companies are scoring poorly on guiding principles for ethical practices.
  • Margareet highlighted the fact that brands urgently need to improve their purchasing practices, as these root causes are often not addressed.
  • Across industries, there is still an over-reliance on self-regulation.
  • There are criticisms about the EU Directive only applying to major companies and their suppliers, and the reliance on audits.
  • While the directive is currently delayed over contestation about directors’ duties and the liability of finance to companies, many EU laws are already in place, and national governments are free to set the bar higher.

The Future Is About Interpreting Social Audit Issues Through A Legal Lens

One such issue is around farmworker accommodation. At the forum, Piet Badenhorst discussed South Africa’s Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), and who qualifies as an unlawful occupier.

  • It can be said that ESTA blurs the lines between lawful and unlawful occupation, and perceptions affect how owners treat occupiers.

  • Some of the qualifying requirements for ESTA are that a person must live on the property by consent and have an income of less than R13,625. ESTA ensures certain rights, including family life, certain services like prepaid electricity, and dignified burials.

  • Unlawful occupation is defined as not having any form of consent to occupy the area, such as erecting an informal structure on someone else’s property, or land grabs.

  • Piet advised that the legal route for farm owners is to start eviction proceedings or a relocation agreement process with the occupier. Occupiers need a legal advisor and cannot waive their rights with an unofficial agreement.

Janie Swanepoel on Sexual Harassment Issues and Convention No. 190

Janie Swanepoel, Partner Africa’s Responsible Business Consultant, gave a talk on Sexual Harassment. She highlighted that sexual harassment is a big issue in the world of work and delved into Convention no. 190, the first international treaty to end violence and harassment at work.

  • Violence disproportionately affects women and continues to be an intersectional feminist issue. Janie emphasised the importance of preventative measures and prioritising worker voices.

  • Janie provided tips for implementing Convention no. 190, including having strong policies on violence and harassment, ensuring GBV is highlighted and fully understood by all employees in the organisation, and having effective grievance mechanisms that are gender-sensitive and trusted by all workers.

  • When asked about what happens when workers don’t use grievance mechanisms, and whether it is best to appoint a female employee from the organisation to receive and address reports, Janie recommended the establishment of women’s committees, hotlines, and prioritising good communication in the workplace to make workers aware of their rights and reporting procedures.

Alleviating The Agriculture Sector’s Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Anél Blignaut of Blue North addressed minimising the impact of carbon emissions in the agriculture industry, as well as other topics that lie in the intersection of social and environmental issues.

  • It has long been common knowledge that the increase in population and pesticide purchases have taken a huge toll on the environment. In fact, agriculture accounts for up to 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Anél noted that EU Green Deal is leading the way in policies to address this, with consumer demand, food production, industry behavior, and trade policy at the forefront.
  • Product carbon footprints are of increasing importance globally, and companies are eager to fulfill requests for carbon-neutral products. For organisations, corporate carbon footprints can be offset with carbon credits as part of their strategy to reach net zero status.
  • Although carbon border adjustment mechanisms are being developed, and agriculture may become liable for further taxation, Anél stresses the importance of taking practical steps to reduce emissions, enhance carbon removals, and establish science-based targets.
  • Anél encourages agriculture players to resist the urge to allow overwhelm to stop their efforts, and simply to begin by taking the first steps to a more sustainable future.

GLOBALG.A.P. Is About More Than Food Safety

Brian Windsor’s talk on the work of GLOBALG.A.P. emphasised that the organisation’s work is not just about food safety, but also worker safety, environmental concerns, and social issues.

  • The one-stop farm audit ensures that farms comply with all standards, making it easier for farmers to ensure compliance.
  • A notable insight from Brian’s talk are the numerous add-ons
    which enhance GLOBALG.A.P. certifications and provide a customised solution for safe and sustainable agriculture.
  • GLOBALG.A.P. collaborates with supply chain stakeholders to foster the global adoption of safe and environmentally responsible farming practices. Their vision is a world where farms are recognised for their efforts to produce enough safe food while safeguarding the environment and farming communities’ welfare.
  • The organisation invites farms to benchmark its practices via GLOBALG.A.P. Brian notes that benchmarking is key for building responsible, resilient businesses throughout the globe.
  • The purpose of this work is to ensure that every generation has the right to safe food, and farms must build resilience and produce food responsibly in order to protect this right for current and future generations.
  • With GLOBALG.A.P., we can move closer to a world where everyone has access to safe, healthy, and responsibly-produced food.

Partner Africa is proud to be an approved GLOBALG.A.P. Certification Body.

Thank you to all those who attended the Agriculture Responsible Business Forum

The event concluded with a networking lunch at the Lord Charles Hotel. We would like to thank all those who attended, including the speakers who shed light on the pertinent topics relevant to agriculture producers, suppliers and other industry players.

Thank you to the Partner Africa team for adding your voices and knowledge to the conversation, and to Emarie van Schalkwyk, our Head of Audits, for spearheading another successful Partner Africa event.

Would you like to host a similar roundtable event for your industry?

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