Mexico: Social responsibility alliance to 'expand' into retail, foodservice -

Mexico: Social responsibility alliance to 'expand' into retail, foodservice

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Mexico: Social responsibility alliance to 'expand' into retail, foodservice

Although no U.S. retailers have yet been officially invited to join the newly formed social responsibility alliance in Mexico, designed to promote the socially responsible business practices, meetings will be set up in the future to see how they can bring their support. Green bell peppers panorama

The International Produce Alliance to Promote a Socially Responsible Industry (AHIFORES) was formed at an event in Mexico City last week, attended by officials from Mexico's Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (SAGARPA).

AHIFORES's members currently represent 90% of Mexico's fresh produce industry, including associations and industry leaders who have joined together to work toward a common goal.

The Alliance's U.S. spokesperson Martin Ley - who is also the president of Arizona-based Fresh Evolution - told retailers would certainly enter into AHIFORES's strategy of 'creating synergy' within the industry.

"We want to create a dynamic of exchange of information, experience, and knowledge on social responsibility, as well as success stories that have been implemented in the past by different growers and different sectors of the industry," Ley said.

"By doing this we believe we can raise the bar throughout Mexico."

"Retailers are an important part of the produce industry, and AHIFORES represents a platform and opportunity for buyers to participate and contribute towards the integral development of all employees involved in the fresh produce supply chain."

Ley emphasized social responsibility was not exclusive to a certain area of the industry like production or sourcing, but was shared by everyone.

"Among growers and grower associations, we are also looking at expanding and creating these interactions and these networks that will include retail chains and foodservice chains," Ley said.

"It will also include other components of the industry that are very important such as auditing groups, and other groups that we believe have a lot of things to contribute to a successful produce industry as a whole, with socially responsible practices.

"We want to start in areas that we operate - the producing side - and we are looking to expand it into the rest of the industry. We hope that this will be a platform that also works for other sectors."

The U.S. spokesperson also said educational programs would play a role for the members to disseminate socially responsible practices.

"We see social responsibility as a process, not a destination. AHIFORES is focused on developing a network of contributors who will meet with the Alliance as expert advisers," he said.

"That network will include public, private and government representatives from the U.S. and Mexico. The input from these groups will be critical in helping AHIFORES achieve its mission of inspiring, educating and advancing socially responsible business practices in Mexico's farms.

"We look forward to engaging with them soon."

Wal-Mart statement on LA Times revelations

In a statement originally published by the LA Times, major supermarket chain Wal-Mart pledged its support to AHIFORES, but emphasized the fact no U.S. retailers or manufactures had yet been invited to join the Alliance.

"Wal-mart is committed to the welfare of the people who work to produce products. The abuses outlined in the LA Times articles are unacceptable and have no place in our supply chain," the company said.

"We will not tolerate abuse of workers and our sourcing teams have been reinforcing this position with our Mexican produce suppliers since the articles were published. We will continue to educate our suppliers globally on our expectations."

It added that its responsible sourcing program was approaching the challenges 'inherent' in a global supply chain via standards, partnerships, and audits.

The organization also said that since the publication of the LA Times four-part investigation, it had reviewed its standards for suppliers to ensure they "clearly communicate our expectations regarding treating workers with respect and dignity."

"Since December, we have reinforced these standards with our internal buyers, since they have the greatest influence with current and potential suppliers," the Wal-mart statement said.

"We have also made plans to publish additional materials about our standards and auditing, as additional public information and emphasis on our standards for suppliers will both educate and emphasize our commitment."

Since December, Wal-mart has also taken steps to improve its audit program, including plans to increase supplier accountability by asking them to certify that they have visited any new facility they plan to use for Wal-mart production and attest that it operates in accordance with its standards.

The company added it had assigned a team that included some of its most senior executives to examine ways that it could partner with others in the U.S. and Mexico to improve conditions beyond its auditing program.

"In addition, senior leaders from our global food sourcing and responsible sourcing teams will attend a series of meetings with suppliers and other key Mexican stakeholders, including those involved with the grower-led Alianza Internacional del Sector Hortofrutícola para el Fomento de una Industria Socialmente Responsable," Wal-mart said.

"We are very supportive of the Alianza. The Alianza growers and producers are actively promoting social responsibility in the fresh produce sector. While no U.S. retailers or manufacturers have so far been invited to join the Alianza, we have expressed our interest in contributing to this important effort. Similarly, in the U.S, we are collaborating with our industry partners such as the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and other U.S. retailers to identify ways to make a difference in labor conditions in Mexico.

"We're optimistic and encouraged that the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA) seems to be taking a leading role in the Alianza by working closely with producers in Mexico. The Ministry's involvement is vital to making progress in this area and we will appropriately encourage and support their engagement."

Related story: Mexico: Results “will take time” for new social responsibility alliance



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