Keeping companies honest today in order to better shape tomorrow’s sustainable food system

25 May 2012

Several months ago, I had a very interesting conversation with a few respected food activists on a whole range of issues; we focused more on the state of our global food system and how to ‘tackle’ big business, especially because at the time, the prolific Occupy movement successfully showed amongst other things what food activism was all about – an open protest against the excesses of a handful of food corporations in our global food system.

Very quickly the conversation skewed towards a few mind-boggling opinions and questions: “there’s but one reason for this disaster – corporate greed and insanity”; “companies are the problem, there’s need to get rid of them”; “in my experience, the stick is the only way”; “why dialogue or collaborate with the enemy?”; “why praise big business for minor steps they take, when they really should have done more?”; “cross-sector partnership between NGOs and business is quite dubious and will very likely not work”; “we won’t need big business to change our food system”, etcetera. Across the board most of us were expressing cynicism and antagonism that have become so deep seated in us over the years as we became increasingly confronted with a litany of global challenges, most of which are being caused by unsustainable business practices.

It is true that capitalism and the capitalist model of production is at the heart of today’s problems in our food system; from deforestation and the drastic decline in our natural resources to indiscriminate use of dangerous pesticides; from land grabbing and bullying of local farmers and union workers to wanton violation of human rights. I also acknowledge that the comportment of the financial sector during this period of great economic crises further proves that if businesses cannot protect themselves, they would most likely be unable to help save the world vis-à-vis our food system. A few corporations have taken control of our food system and are amassing tons of profit at the expense of the health and living conditions of local farmers worldwide.

Although, on February 27 2012, quite a lot of food justice advocates fought back side-by-side via the Occupy movement, there are arguably two main groups of “defenders of our food system”: groups that agree that companies are mainly the problems but are willing to keep trying to encourage their change process; and groups that see companies as the main problems and would prefer to get rid of them.

One thing is clear, both fractions are still experimenting with clever ways of getting rid of this corporate control and reclaiming our food system from their perfidious claws. They however must converge and assume a powerful role that increasingly keeps companies honest today in order to shape tomorrow’s sustainable food system.

Recently I launched Fairfood International’s 3-year strategy titled A Taste of TomorrowInspiring change in the global food system. In this publication, Fairfood further clarifies its role as one of the influential sustainable food advocacy groups. Fairfood will take on a very crucial role of acting as a sounding board to food and beverage companies worldwide. In this role – e.g.: Diamond Foods vs Fairfood International – we will work behind the scenes to encourage companies to be open/transparent, to influence companies to make better judgments on how to integrate sustainability in their core business; to engage them in constructive but critical dialogues and challenge them to find clarity in terms of sustainability-related problems, solutions and implementation.

Within this strategy, Fairfood International will continue to call on companies to abandon their old stance of reticence on the issue of transparency in their supply chains and embrace complete openness; we will need them to clean up their acts and embrace sustainable agricultural practices in order to ensure significant improvements in the lives of vulnerable groups in their supply chains and on our environment.

 – Anselm Iwundu, Executive Director Fairfood International