How should food businesses operate in areas of conflict?

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

TrustWorks Global helps companies, including food and beverage companies, operate in conflict-sensitive areas. Image Source: Getty Images/Frank Rossoto Stocktrek
TrustWorks Global helps companies, including food and beverage companies, operate in conflict-sensitive areas. Image Source: Getty Images/Frank Rossoto Stocktrek

Related tags agricultural commodity Human rights

Many key commodities in the food industry are sourced from conflict areas. What role can a social enterprise play in helping businesses operate in these areas without exacerbating harm?

Many countries experiencing conflict are the source of key crops for the food and beverage industry, such as coffee, cocoa and sugar cane. When operating in such countries, food companies must be aware of, and understand, these conflicts, in order to ensure they do not cause or contribute to conflict inadvertently.

Could aligning with a social enterprise help food business navigate their way though fragile and conflict-affected settings (FCSs)? TrustWorks Global, which itself is a social enterprise, believes so.

What does TrustWorks Global do?

TrustWorks Global is dedicated to carrying out heightened human rights due diligence (hHRDD) in a conflict-sensitive manner. The operation supports corporate and/or country-level teams to put governance processes in place in order to ensure that operations meet or exceed standards of responsibility through integrated processes to cut across company siloes.

The enterprises also assesses whether country teams are ready to operate within specific FCSs by conducting country-level hHRDD and conflict sensitivity analyses, as well as impact assessments of clients’ operations and supply chains within said FCSs, developing road maps for adapting operations and procedures.

Further, TrustWorks Global provides training to teams and leaders on hHRDD, conflict-sensitivity, and ‘soft skills’ such as mediation and facilitation, and helps its clients manage crises within FCSs. 

Heightened Human Rights Due Diligence (hHRDD)

Heightened Human Rights Due Diligence (hHRDD) does not simply mean more​ human rights due diligence. It is instead a very specific approach to human rights due diligence that combines human rights due diligence with an analysis of the conflict, with a view to understanding whether and how business activities could make the situation worse.

“We support companies to ensure they have in place the right policy frameworks to work responsibly in conflict-affected contexts; generally speaking this involves either incorporating a ‘conflict lens’ into pre-existing human rights policies, or creating a conflict-specific set of standalone policies if the human rights policies are not comprehensive enough,” Josie Lianna Kaye, TrustWorks’ CEO and founder, told FoodNavigator.

“The aim is to ensure that staff, partners and suppliers are aware of the conflict-related risks and impacts associated with business activities in FCSs and the implications of these risks for how they work.”

A good policy for an FCS, Kaye told us, should articulate the most salient human rights and conflict risks and impacts on/of the business’s sector or industry; distinguish between business operations in FCSs and non-FCSs; and demonstrate the company’s awareness of its responsibility to understand and manage its conflict-related and human rights risks by adhering both to normative frameworks for businesses in conflict areas and to regulations.

It should also outline relevant expectations for company staff, key suppliers and partners, alongside the processes the company will put in place to identify, mitigate, prevent, monitor and report on adverse conflict impacts.

If a company wants to go beyond the minimum, suggested Kaye, they should also assess the opportunities they have for creating a positive impact on peace and stability. 

What is the role of experts?

TrustWorks provides its clients with expertise in a wide range of areas relevant to doing business in FCSs. “TrustWorks is comprised of peace and conflict experts with different ‘niche’ areas of expertise; in response to requests from clients, therefore, we are able to combine the expertise of our team in heightened human rights due diligence; conflict-sensitivity; International Humanitarian Law; stakeholder engagement; climate change and biodiversity; and gender-related issues, amongst others, to meet the needs of the client in a given particular context,” Kaye told FoodNavigator.

One of the most important forms of expertise, however, is local knowledge. Every FCS is different, and therefore local knowledge is vital to help businesses understand context-specific challenges.

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Commodities such as coffee are often grown in conflict sensitive areas. Image Source: Getty Images/andresr

“We work with local experts to ensure that all our work is informed by local knowledge. It is this combination of international ‘niche’ thematic expertise and experience of working extensively with companies and investors, and the knowledge of our local partners that enables us to help companies comply with the wide-ranging international norms, standards and legislation in this space.”

How does due diligence legislation affect TrustWorks’ work?

Due diligence legislation and standards, such as the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD)​, which was recently voted through in the EU parliament, inform many of TrustWorks’ activities.

“Companies with business activities in conflict affected and high-risk areas need to implement the mandatory parts of the legislation differently to how they would implement the legislation in areas that are not conflict-affected or high risk,” Kaye said of the CSDDD.

“This is because standard human rights frameworks, and even highly sophisticated human rights frameworks, are insufficient to capture the broader range of contextual and conflict-specific risks and impacts associated with business activities in conflict-affected and high-risk areas.”

The CSDDD instructs companies doing business in conflict-affected areas to adapt their policies and practices to the areas they are operating in, as human rights abuses are more likely to take place within these areas. In many cases, weak state capacity and regulatory frameworks, corruption and political instability are present in FCSs.

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Conflict sensitive areas pose unique challenges for companies. Image Source: Getty Images/mujibwaziri

Without appropriate policies and practices in place, companies can inadvertently make such situations worse, which is why it’s so important for them to understand the context in which they are operating and what the risks are.

Is there a connection between agricultural commodities and conflict?

Many key food-producing countries, such as Nigeria, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are considered FCSs. The production and distribution of agricultural commodities can sometimes be linked to conflict. However, every conflict has complex causes and such connections are rarely intuitive or linear.

“Agricultural commodities rely on land and water and these are two resources that are often at the heart of many conflicts. Therefore there is an increased risk that well-intentioned companies inadvertently cause, contribute or are linked in some way to conflict,” Kaye told us.

“But it is important to note that every sector and every industry carries conflict-specific risks and impacts: the type of risks and impacts are really determined by the country in question, and what is driving the conflict in the specific areas where the company has business activities.”

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