The centrality of food and agriculture sector in the 2030 Agenda

Published date: 30 November 2023

New podcast explores business contributions to ending hunger and poverty

Why is food production on land and in water at the forefront of the global sustainability agenda, and how can consistent ESG data help create a positive transformation of our food systems? 

The latest episode of The SDG Insider – the podcast from GRI that delves into the existing links between corporate reporting and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), features several international experts from both private and public sector, who join the dots between today’s global food systems, the associated challenges, and the broader sustainability agenda.  

Episode 5: The growing importance of agriculture and fishing in ending hunger and poverty 

In this episode we hear from: 

  • Wilbert Flinterman, Senior Advisor for Workers' Rights and Trade Union Relations at Fairtrade International; 
  • Katarina Mellström, Secretary General at Global Child Forum; 
  • Alba Graells Roca, Food Loss and Waste Expert at the Catalan Ministry of Climate Action; 
  • David McInnes, Founder and Coordinator of Canada's National Index on Agri-Food Performance 

Together, speakers discuss the challenges and progress towards the SDGs in agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing sectors, touching on child labour laws to protect children’s rights, smallholder farmers' struggles to earn a living wage, and how the GRI standard for the sector (GRI 13) can help companies address and report on critical aspects to achieve set SDG targets. 

A recap of insights shared 

As most food is produced, traded, and sold by businesses, these, together with governments, have a crucial role to play in bringing the much-needed transparency to the global food systems. Governments, in particular, are key for regulatory frameworks and other preventive measures, such as due diligence-related policies that can identify and manage associated risks.  

The food system as a whole, is one of the most – if not the most - fundamental systems in the world, supporting the lives of billions of people. This explains why the impacts related to food production and consumption stretch across all three dimensions of sustainability – the environmental, social, and economic.  

While the food and agriculture sectors create millions of jobs, they also have the highest prevalence of human rights violations, such as those connected to child labor. Even if most countries agree that the worst forms of child labor should be eliminated – through the universal ratification of the ILO Convention 182 – the reality is that the lack of income in rural communities makes it impossible to achieve this goal. It is the living income for families engaged in agricultural activities the prerequisite for stopping child labor. 

The income-related issues, in turn, are connected to the legal frameworks in place, including the existence and adequacy of the minimum wage for sector workers who, oftentimes, fall outside of the scope of minimum wage regulations.  

Businesses play a key role in providing adequate income for agricultural workers through sourcing, pricing, and remuneration policies. Beyond awareness of the impacts of company policies on workers, businesses need to take additional, more proactive measures, such as assessing the living wages in specific locations of operations as well as comparing those to the level of wages paid. Ideally, the process should also engage suppliers. The failure to do so will result in increased risk of human rights abuses and consequent associations with exploitation. 

Another big topic in the sector relates to environmental externalities and efficient use of natural resources. This is precisely why food loss, together with food waste, are issues of growing importance for regulators. For instance, Catalonia has passed the first law on food loss in Europe, resulting in a surge of requests for data on the drivers behind this issue. 

Margarita Lysenkova, GRI’s Senior Manager – International Policy, said: 

“A common thread of prevalent issues in the food sector is corporate sustainability data, as it is impossible to talk about targets, strategies or programs without the adequate and consistent data from key actors – that is, from businesses. This is why in many countries, both the industry and the government are actively trying to drive ESG disclosure through various initiatives, such as Canada’s National Agri-food Performance Benchmark or the Food Data Transparency Partnership in the UK.

Global sustainability reporting standards in the agriculture and food sector – such as GRI 13 - can help further drive a deep and positive transformation of the entire sector, by bringing the much-needed transparency on organizational impacts and practices.” 

GRI 13: Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing Sectors 2022 provides a reference point for any business seeking to deliver transparency on agricultural impacts and comes in effect for reporting from 1 January 2024. 

The SDG Insider can also be accessed on Spotify, Apple podcast, and Google podcast. GRI would like to thank the Government of Sweden for supporting this project through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).