Colruyt Group continues on improving the working conditions at their suppliers in risk countries

Halle, Belgium, 2016-Jun-10 — /EPR Retail News/ — Colruyt Group continues working on improving the working conditions at their suppliers in risk countries. In 2015, a total of 555 audits were performed at non-European non-food plants and agricultural and food companies that supply to the group. 86 percent of the suppliers had acceptable working conditions. In order to increase its impact, the group also contributed to an international bundling of forces of retailers, importers and major brands that work on creating more sustainable supply chains.

555 suppliers mapped out

In 2015, Colruyt Group audited 166 producers in risk countries. Independent audit services visited companies from whom the group directly imports products or who make products for the group’s house brands. The group also received audit reports of other retailers, which makes for a total of 555 audited suppliers. For about 86 percent of the suppliers, the working conditions were assessed as average and some minor or major improvements were required. They were provided with a plan for improvement and will be audited again after three months to two years depending on the severity of the faults. Cooperation was ceased with nine suppliers with very low scores.

Similar to past years, most breaches of working conditions were found in such fields as working hours, pay, health, and safety. Colruyt Group does see that consistent auditing is an effective way of improving the working conditions, even though there are major differences between industries and companies. In the non-food industry, it mainly concerns toy manufacturers in China. ‘On average, they have fairly good scores, mainly because we have been auditing them for 13 years,’ says Daniel Bral, in charge of social auditing at Colruyt Group. At the food companies, conditions are usually less good. ‘This makes sense, because we were one of the first to start auditing and only started in 2013. Some producers never even heard of social auditing and still have a long way to go.’

Focus on food producers

Thus, Colruyt Group wants speed up auditing in the food industry and wants to have audited all food processing companies at least once by the end of 2016. Two-thirds of the companies must also have an acceptable score by that time. The situation is more complex for primary producers of fruit and vegetables, because it usually concerns cooperative organisations of numerous family-owned growers. ‘Nevertheless, we also want to have audited all primary producers at least once by the end of 2018.’

The retailer keeps investing in audits, but does realise that the audits alone are not enough to solve structural problems. ‘All parties involved have to take responsibility. For instance, local authorities can enforce their legislation more strictly.’

International bundling of forces

The battle for better working conditions is more efficient the more international cooperation there is within associations that draw up audit methods and standards and that ensure the exchange of information among their members. That is why Colruyt Group has spent the past year working on expanding the BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) partnership. This partnership contains 1,700 members including European retailers, importers and multinational brands; at the start of 2017, it will be reinforced by members of the French ICS association that includes heavyweights, such as Carrefour.

‘This will increase our impact. After all: the more members there are, the more audits there will be and the more the results will be shared. The customers’ increased interest in sustainability will certainly stimulate the producers to implement improvements faster,’ Bral states. From 2017 onwards, Colruyt Group will perform all its audits on the basis of the BSCI method. According to Bral: ‘This requires a lot less administration and makes it easier to compare results.’ The producers will also have more clarity, because having different audit systems and certifications makes it hard to meet the wide range of standards.

Hanne Poppe
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