Important results achieved in five years of cooperation in the Agreement for the Food Products Sector
The IRBC Agreement for the Food Products Sector has increased awareness of international responsible business conduct (IRBC) in the sector. This is evident from the final evaluation of the agreement that expired on June 30, 2023.
Thanks to the agreement, companies are able to apply the OECD guidelines in their own business operations with the aim of identifying and tackling risks for people, animals and the environment in the chain. The ambitious objectives have only been partially achieved, but important concrete results have been achieved that serve as a basis for further cooperation.
The parties look back on a positive collaboration. After a slow start, the agreement entered action mode and focus was established. In recent years, the focus has mainly been on supporting companies in the application of due diligence to achieve impact on the ground. A significant number of the members of the three affiliated industry organisations FNLI, KNSV and CBL are now aware of IRBC and due diligence based on the insights from the annual self-assessment scan. This annual self-assessment scan, the due diligence roadshow (a practical two-day training) and the start of the Local Expert Network in particular are seen as successful agreement initiatives. The agreement has thus created conditions for long-term impact. Companies have been enabled to translate and apply the OECD guidelines in their own business operations, which they can continue to do after the agreement ends.
Not all of the ambitious objectives in the agreement have been achieved. For example, not all projects and activities got off to a good start, cooperation between covenant parties was sometimes difficult and a lot of time was invested in building mutual relationships and streamlining processes in the first few years. The intended impact of the agreement was that parties would strive to achieve substantial steps of improvement for groups that experience negative effects in food chains. Such an impact on-the-ground is difficult to measure. Despite this limited direct impact, the agreement has made a substantial contribution to the preconditions for this through the results in the field of due diligence; the enabling environment has been strengthened, the most important basis for long-term structural impact.
The parties to the agreement are interested in continuing the collaboration, provided that the lessons are built on and the collaborations are with added value. Parties still see the need for cooperation in the chain to continue to structurally tackle the risks in international food chains. Companies, industry associations and social organisations are currently discussing how they can join forces in the future. Further encouraging due diligence management and the upcoming due diligence legislation, with direct involvement of companies, are important conditions. In addition, companies can continue to use the tools developed within the food covenant, with which they can further prepare for the upcoming due diligence legislation and comply with the OECD guidelines.