Sustainability takes many forms one of which concerns morality. Is it morally sustainable for the CEO of a business to take a pay rise approaching 300% whilst denying the basic living wage to those who working on the shop floor? This is a subject that has been taken up by Share Action, a charity that works oh share holders and campaigners to bring about beneficial change in listed companies. https://shareaction.org/news/weve-filed-a-living-wage-resolution-at-sainsburys-heres-why
It seems to me that food production in the UK is caught between two objectives: that food should be produced as cheaply as possible, and that profits for the shareholders should be maximised. Producing food as cheaply as possible has been seen as a way of ensuring everyone can afford to eat. However producing food cheaply doesn’t necessarily make it affordable.
Reducing the cost of food can be achieved in various way:-
Industrialising processes whether that is the Chorleywood method of making bread or factory farming livestock
Large scale monoculture farming where land is cleared to grow single crops on a large scale – including the clearing of rain forests.
Intensified farming where animals are kept in barns and fed high protein diets rather than having a free range lifestyle, foraging and grazing as they go – low intensive free range animal foraging requires a much greater area of land. On the other hand, eg high protein diets fed to indoor animals has to be grown somewhere.
Intensive use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers to maintain high crop yields. This can become an expensive option when the cost of these inputs rise.
Keeping costs down by paying low wages and/ or by employing people on a seasonal or zero hours basis only. This applies throughout the food industry from the farmhand to the supermarket check out.
Automation of processes whether that is robots picking crops or automated diary parlours miking cows.
Importing food from countries where labour costs are even lower. is of course a flaw here.
Many of these cost saving practices involve reducing wages and/ jobs. As wages and jobs fall so the need for even cheaper food rises. There seems to be a flaw in the system!. Recently Ranjit Singh Boparan, the UK’s biggest poultry supplier of chicken, queried how it was that his industry could producing chickens that sold for less that a pint of beer – and whether such low prices could be maintained. In part he was questioning whether there were any ways in which costs can be cuts. Yet even at £2.66 (Tesco’s) for a chicken, chicken is still of the menu for a lot of people.
People who have to resort to food banks to eat, are not just people who are unemployed. They are also those who, because of disabilities and illness, receive disability benefits, those who are elderly and living on state pensions, those who are employed on zero hours contracts, and even those who are in full employment. The current minimum wage is £8.91 per hour for those over the age of 21. The Job Seekers Allowance is £77 a week for those 25 and over – depending on circumstances, this may be supplemented by Universal Credit. The full basic State Pension is £141.85 per week. All of these are less than the minimum wage recommended by Living Wage Foundation – £9.90 (£11.05 in London). Whether even this figure will be sufficient at a time of sharply rising fuel costs (and the knock on effect that will have an all products) is yet to be seen.
We have created an economy that does not provide the poorest with the necessary financial resources to enable them to buy the daily food they need – let alone enough to pay for heating, period products, housing, travel etc. Why is this so? Because the economic model we use says that profits must take priority. If costs rise such that they risk profits, then costs must be reduced – even if that means reducing wages and employment opportunities. As a fig leaf, a vague promise is proffered that, by maintaining profits and ensuring that the economy continues to grows, the trickle down effect will – ultimately – increase the wealth of even the poorest in society. No where does our economic system suggest that goods should be priced at a level that allows the workforce to be paid a genuinely fair wage – a wage such that they could afford the essentials of life including chicken and a pint of beer.
If everyone was paid at levels of pay (including benefits and pensions) that allowed them to eat properly, heat their homes, pay for their accommodation etc, then yes prices of some goods (such as chicken) would go up. And of course that proposed ‘fair’ level of pay would have to be sufficient for the recipients to pay those higher food (and other) prices. There would be a knock on for those already on higher incomes in that their day to day living costs too would go up – but usually the higher our income the smaller the proportion we spend on essentials such as food so the impact would be smaller the higher one’s income. Would we not all feel more comfortable as a society knowing that everyone was being properly fed and that no one was benefiting because someone else was being underpaid?
This reinvisiging of the economy is not a pipe dream but is to be found in the shape of Doughnut Economics. In her book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Oxford University’s Kate Raworth argues for a radical overhaul of our traditional economic models: “Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet,” she says. “In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials … while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend.”
Doughnut Economics challenges our existing profit orientated economics that sees economic growth as the only way forwards. Doughnut Economics argues that we can have a more caring and more sophisticated economic model which has two key objectives. First that everyone should have a comfortable standard of living – one that meets all seven priorities of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Second that all economic activity should be sustainable and not cause irreparable damage to life on earth – ensuring a stable climate, fertile soils, healthy oceans, a protective ozone layer, ample freshwater and abundant biodiversity. https://doughnuteconomics.org/about-doughnut-economics
This economic model would not only prioritise the needs of the 2 million in the UK who cannot afford to eat on a daily basis; it would also prioritise the needs of the 3 billion globally who are malnourished. And it would prioritise the well-being of chickens that are reared for less than the cost of a latte!
This week is the first half of Fairtrade fortnight when the Fairtrade Foundation draws our attention to the their work in protecting and supporting farmers, farm workers and small businesses in developing countries. For products to gain the Fairtrade mark a thorough investigation of trading practices is made, standards attained and goals established. Products with the Fairtrade mark often command a higher price which consumers are willing to pay knowing that the extra supports the wellbeing of those involved in its production and of the environment.
These principles are clearly ones one would wish to apply in every circumstance. As consumers we can make the effort to find out about workers pay and conditions, the effects of production on the environment, of safe guards and sustainable practices, company practices, shareholder remuneration and the payment of taxes. It is not just in developing companies that one should desire fair trade practices, but here in the UK too. Being better informed we can chose to support those companies which trade fairly. The following groups/ foundations etc offer standards and identifying logos that help inform us as consumers.
Fairtrade is a system of certification that aims to ensure a set of standards are met in the production and supply of a product or ingredient. For farmers and workers, Fairtrade means workers’ rights, safer working conditions and fairer pay. For shoppers it means high quality, ethically produced products. Choosing Fairtrade means standing with farmers for fairness and equality, against some of the biggest challenges the world faces. It means farmers creating change, from investing in climate friendly farming techniques to developing women in leadership. With Fairtrade you change the world a little bit every day. Through simple shopping choices you are showing businesses and governments that you believe in fair and just trade. https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/what-is-fairtrade/
The Rainforest Alliance is a global leader in sustainability certification. Farms, forest communities, and businesses that participate in our certification program are audited against rigorous sustainability standards based on the triple bottom line: environmental, economic, and social well-being. More than two million farmers follow our agriculture standards in 70 countries around the globe. Our programs focus on coffee, cocoa, tea, bananas, and many other important commodity sectors facing urgent environmental and social challenges. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/approach/
The Living Wage Foundation is at the heart of the independent movement of businesses and people that campaign for the idea that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. They celebrate and recognise the leadership of responsible employers who choose to go further and pay a real Living Wage based on the cost of living, not just the government minimum. They coordinate the announcement of the real Living Wage rates each November, based on the best available evidence about living standards in London and the UK. We also provide advice and support to employers and service providers implementing the independently-calculated Living Wage rates. This includes best practice guides, case studies from leading employers, model procurement frameworks and access to specialist legal and HR advice. They offer accreditation to employers that pay the independently-calculated Living Wage rates to all staff in London and the UK, or those committed to an agreed timetable of implementation, by awarding the Living Wage Employer Mark. https://www.livingwage.org.uk/living-wage-foundation
The Fair Tax Foundation was launched in 2014 and operates as a not-for-profit social enterprise. Our Fair Tax Mark accreditation scheme seeks to encourage and recognise businesses that pay the right amount of corporation tax at the right time and in the right place. We believe companies paying tax responsibly and transparently should be celebrated, and any race to the bottom resisted. Tax contributions are a key part of the positive social and economic impact made by business. The growth of tax havens and unethical corporate tax conduct have become prominent concerns across the world. Aggressive tax avoidance negatively distorts national economies and undermines the ability of responsible business to compete fairly, both domestically and internationally. https://fairtaxmark.net/
Certified B Corporations, or B Corps, are companies verified by B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.B Lab is the non-profit network transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities and the planet. It was created in 2006 with the mission to inspire and enable people to use business as a force for good. There are B Labs across the globe (forming the B Global Network) including Australia, East Africa, mainland Europe and North and South America. B Lab UK is a charity that launched in 2015. As part of this international network, B Lab UK leads economic systems change to support our collective vision of an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy. Our purpose is to redefine success in business through building a community of engaged businesses, raising awareness of the B Corp Movement and influencing change in the UK economy. Together, we are shifting our global economy from a system that profits few to one that benefits all: advancing a new model that moves from concentrating wealth and power to ensuring equity, from extraction to generation, and from prioritising individualism to embracing interdependence. https://bcorporation.uk/about-b-lab-uk/
The Soil Association is the charity that digs deeper to transform the way we eat, farm and care for our natural world.Why do we do this? Because we want to live in a world which is in balance with nature. In a future with good health and a safe climate. For the last 75 years, we’ve worked with citizens, farmers, policy makers and businesses, supporting them to explore the vital relationship between the health of soil, plants, animals and people. Because the only way to solve the issues we face is to understand that they are all connected – and that food, farming and forestry are a vital part of the solution. Any product sold as ‘organic’ in the UK has to comply with organic regulation requirements written into a set of Standards. The Soil Association acts as a certification body and its symbol is a recognised and trusted international mark of organic certification internationally. https://www.soilassociation.org/who-we-are/
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an international non-profit organisation on a mission to stop overfishing. For over 20 years, they have been working with fisheries, seafood companies and scientists to help protect the oceans around us, and safeguard seafood supplies. The blue MSC ecolabel is the world’s most recognised label for sustainable seafood. It is found on retail products and in restaurants identifying fish and seafood that has been wild-caught in a sustainable way and is fully traceable. The blue MSC ecolabel is only awarded to well-managed fisheries that meet the MSC’s independently verified standards for sustainable seafood production. https://www.msc.org/
The Forestry Stewardship Council, the original pioneers of forest certification, has 25 years of experience in sustainable forest management. They use their expertise to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests, bringing together experts from the environmental, economic and social spheres. 12 Irreplaceable Forest Products in Our Daily Lives: paper, toilet paper, books, cardboard, paper packaging, wood, furniture, musical instruments, charcoal, rubber products such as condoms, balls, tires, fruits and berries, and medicines – A lot of medicines have important ingredients that come from the rainforest. While there are not any FSC-certified medicines (yet!), the standards set by FSC for responsible forest management protect the forests where these ingredients come from, thus ensuring that we will have access to them for future generations. Next time you add them to your shopping bag, make sure they are sourced sustainably by looking for the FSC logo. https://fsc.org/en
In 2008 The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil developed a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) in response to the ever-urgent need and growing global concern that commodities are produced without causing harm to the environment or society. Sustainable palm oil is responsive to increasing global food demand, supports affordable food prices, supports poverty reduction, safeguards social interests, communities and workers, and protects the environment. All organisations in the supply chain that use RSPO certified sustainable oil products are audited to prevent overselling and mixing palm oil with conventional (or non-sustainable) oil palm products. https://www.rspo.org/certification