There are growing environmental challenges and people are increasingly aware of the environment. This awareness has extended to social issues faced around the world. Businesses within farming supply chains are concerned about these issues – they have to ensure that they are addressed within their operations to gain a competitive advantage.
Customers are asking critical questions about the social and environmental credentials of the food they eat. Customers want to know what farmers are doing within their own powers to improve the environment. They want to be rest assured that efforts are being made by supply chain players to combat climate change, reduce water scarcity and land pollution and so on.
In the context of social issues, customers want to understand the social conditions associated with the food they buy. They want to know if measures have been taken to ensure that no element of child labour was used to grow and produce their food crops, they want to be sure that farm workers were not exposed to health risks, and that workers are paid decently and so on.
In the same vein, environmentalists have come to terms with the fact that the environment has social dimensions attached to it. For example, people are part of the environment and it is expected that environmental protection measures being applied across all sectors of the economy should also put people into considerations – any measure that is deemed good for the environment should also be good for human lives and vice-versa before it can be implemented in any sector of the economy. As a result, efforts to improve environmental sustainability are also geared towards the creation of positive social impacts.
In the agriculture sector, the supply chains associated with food products are very complex in nature. It is complex given the fact that there are many players involved in the production of food items. Many of these players are not domiciled in a single location/country; they are located in different parts of the world with widespread activities that are global in nature.
One way to tackle environmental and social issues in complex supply chains (such as the agriculture sector) is through traceability. In a United Nations Global Compact and BSR report, traceability is defined as “The ability to trace and identify the history, distribution, location and application of products, parts and materials; to ensure the reliability of sustainability claims in the areas of human rights, labour (including health and safety), the environment and anti-corruption.”
Having observed that traceability is all about tracing and identifying a product and its constituents. The next question worth deliberating on is how do players in farming supply chains demonstrate traceability? The simple answer is that traceability can be easily achieved by documenting data in ways that make them accessible and retrievable. When a product’s data is documented, the sustainability of the product or company involved in the production of the product can be assessed and verified easily. For example, company A sells food products in Australia and gets its food items from company B. Company B is saddled with the responsibility of growing the food items in Asia. Company A can easily check whether or not company B managed energy, water, waste efficiently in the growing stage of its food products if the product’s data is traceable. Company B can check whether company A used decent or child labour for growing the food products – these lists can go on and on.
As a result, traceability can be used to pinpoint any social and environmental risks as well as economic ones in complex supply chains like that of the agriculture sector and help to improve them accordingly.