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Social Q&A

We rely on our people to grow our business responsibly. Our operations impact communities around the world. We strive to ensure that impact is positive for the long-term.

In this section we explore our achievements and challenges in 4 of our material areas which focus particularly on social impacts: livelihoods, labour, food security and nutrition, and food safety and quality.

Q&A with Dr Christopher Stewart, Head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability

How did Olam perform against its social goals in 2016?

Our vision is end‑to‑end sustainable supply chains by 2020, which is a huge challenge but we are making headway. Safety improves year‑on‑year; we are reaching more smallholder women; have made progress on a major programme to grant security of land tenure for cooperatives in Gabon; and have advanced nutrition and crop diversification initiatives.

Which social issues are stakeholders most concerned with?

Many crops we sell are grown in emerging markets, which brings well‑known risks. Customers, NGOs, financial institutions, donors and others want to know how we manage them, so engagement happens across products, geographies and functions.

Issues raised in 2016 include: the ongoing efforts to eradicate child labour in third‑party supply chains, including cocoa and oil palm; and ending the forced mobilisation of workers in Uzbekistan for the cotton harvest.

However, many of these issues are closely connected to wider issues such as rural poverty, lack of community infrastructure or government policies so cannot be addressed in silos. Equally, solutions require a multi‑ stakeholder approach which is why we seek to collaborate with peers and other partners. We have over 30 partners for the Olam Livelihood Charter (OLC) programmes alone.

What social challenges do you face in 2017?

We need smallholders to see farming as a viable livelihood so we can secure supplies. Therefore we need to help them improve incomes through better yields and quality. Setting up training sessions for smallholder farmers in Good Agricultural Practices is the easy part. Implementing them in the field is harder, requiring ongoing community engagement and cultural sensitivity.

A less talked‑about issue is the challenge of managing a workforce on plantations in highly rural areas of developing countries. In Gabon and Tanzania, the majority of our workers have never held formal employment and many are functionally illiterate. This makes it challenging to instil both their rights and responsibilities: for example, it takes time to teach safety processes in places where no such culture exists. Creating a positive work ethic (including dealing with absenteeism), and instilling safe behaviours are as essential as capacity and skills building. Identifying and promoting local leaders is invaluable in encouraging fellow workers to uphold our standards. Disputes can occur, which is why we have made considerable efforts to establish worker representation groups.

Will you be changing your strategy in 2017?

No, we have a clear strategy with 4 overall objectives:

  • mitigate sustainability risks to the business, environment and society
  • promote increased volumes of sustainably sourced and processed products
  • use land and water resources efficiently and minimise GHG emissions; and
  • promote better livelihoods, good labour practices and food security.

To achieve these, we will continue to build and implement robust and effective frameworks, equip our teams with the right skills and work with the business leaders to ensure everyone recognises their accountability. Monitoring, reporting and communicating are essential for us to measure and improve performance: we are already seeing the benefits of the new data collection system we implemented in 2015. And, finally, forging effective partnerships makes our business stronger, more competitive and more effective at scale.

More information can be found on sustainability progress in our GRI Report and Olam Livelihood Charter.