Corporations in Canada face less political pressure to do good than in the United States and Europe where more public campaigns are aimed directly at business, like those regarding pesticide use or wages for farm work. Canadians tend to expect governments to act and to regulate business to do the right thing.
It may be time to expect more directly from companies which operate in the country, to assess the impact they’re having and ask for more. Many corporations have long had environmental and other campaigns targeting their work. As the food movement grows, the ethical, social, ecological and welfare considerations of companies will increase.
Businesses, especially those those in food, are becoming more interested in the conversation on food security. This is important for food companies – but not only those in the food sector influence food security. What can companies do if they’re serious?
- Pay living wages
Poverty is the biggest driver of food insecurity. Within our economic system it is wages that allow people access to food. Living wages and benefits to employees will allow most people to feed themselves and their families healthy food. It also puts money back into neighbourhoods, where resources follow money. Think automobile companies in the 60s rather than present-day Walmart.
- Consider your product
Is what you’re doing as a company harming or helping food security? What are the health, environmental, cultural, and social impacts of your product line?
Are you supporting small farms to be successful and ecological, improving animal welfare, expanding non-animal producion, reducing processing, increasing nutrition, supporting traditional knowledge? Or are you all about mass-produced white bread? Companies will start owning the health implications of what they’re feeding people and the epidemics of disease.
- Support grassroots communities
Traditional corporate social responsibility won’t cut it if you want to make a difference in food security, you can’t just donate some cans to a food bank anymore. Consider impactful work done by grassroots organizations. Have you raised your wages? Then support a group pushing for that across the board. Work with your unions. Think beyond charity to campaigns for social change and work that is neighbourhood-based, like Patagonia. Distribute some of that profit.
- Make your supply chains fair
Paying fair prices for your goods and services means everyone can pay for food, not only your direct employees. Farmers, farm workers, factory workers, truck drivers, and so on need to pay the bills too, whether they supply you domestically or internationally. You can’t pay someone pennies in Dhaka and make up for it by writing a cheque to a food bank in Calgary. Follow and inspect your supply chains and publicly report back.
Companies will face increasing scrutiny to do the right thing. The public can push companies to do more of this, and corporate Canada can follow suit.
- What else is important for companies to be doing? Leave your idea in the comments.
Darcy Higgins lives in Toronto. He is a Partner with the social venture Building Roots, a consultant, activist and writer on food, sustainability and community building.