The confectionary giant’s new Sustainable in a Generation plan includes a commitment to work with Verité on tackling human rights and sharing results with competitors

Human rights issues will be as important as climate change in Mars, Inc’s new $1bn sustainability strategy announced this week, its Sustainable in a Generation plan.

Most press coverage of the new plan, launched by CEO Grant Reid ahead of the UN General Assembly and Climate Week in New York City, surrounded Mars’ commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain by 67% by 2050 (compared to 2015), and to eliminate GHG from its 420 sites across the world by 2040, a dramatic increase on its previous commitment, which focused only on its direct operations. 

In his statement launching the plan, Reid said: “The engine of global business – its supply chain – is broken, and requires transformational, cross-industry collaboration to fix it.” He added: “This is a critical moment when business should come together to lead.”

But Marika McCauley Sine, human rights director for the family-owned global food company, said climate is only one of three pillars to the plan, and the $1bn would be equally shared with the two other pillars: to “meaningfully improve” the working lives of one million people in its supply chain and to help consumers and their pets lead healthier and happier lives.

In an interview with Ethical Corporation, Sine said the company has spent the past three years taking a forensic look at the sustainability of its entire value chain, working with the World Resources Institute, and realised there was much more that Mars and the industry should be doing to meet the goals set in the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Mint farming in India. Credit: Mars

One priority area Mars will focus on in this new strategy is tackling modern slavery, Sine said. At the Consumer Goods Forum’s annual meeting in Berlin, Reid made an emotional appeal to 400 of the world’s biggest consumer companies to join him in trying to solve an issue that that still affects 21 million people globally, despite years of corporate avowals to clean up their supply chains. “Modern day slavery is unacceptable to me personally, and to my company, and it should be unacceptable to everyone in this room,” he said. “Good intentions are meaningless without action. We have to harness the collective action of our members and work together on a pre-competitive basis to make it happen.”

Sine represents Mars as one of the co-chairs of the CGF’s Global Taskforce on Forced Labour, which was set up by the CGF two years ago, and has established three priority principles that the Forum’s 400 members are urged to take action on: ensuring that every worker has freedom of movement, no worker should have to pay to get a job, and no worker should be indebted or coerced to work.

Marika McCauley Sine, human rights director, Mars

The CGF has pilot projects working on putting these principles in the palm oil and seafood supply chains.

Sine said Mars felt it had to do all it could to establish a path that other companies could follow in tackling the extremely complex issue. "We feel the progress is nowhere near where it needs to be and we want to push the envelope to show what’s possible.”   

Earlier this year Mars signed a long-term strategic partnership with the labour rights NGO Verité to develop its human rights strategy. Job one of the collaboration, she says, “is to see what works and share that with others.” She said that meant working in collaboration with other companies, including competitors, NGOs, and governments, some of which have legislation in place that is enabling modern slavery.

 “We connect with Verité almost on a daily, and certainly a weekly basis. Our partnership is rich and deep and covers nearly everything we do,” Sine said.  “It’s already driving so many new insights and depth of thinking. They [Verité] ask tough questions and they push us.”

Credit: Mars

At a forum at Skoll Foundation’s annual meeting in Oxford shortly after the partnership was signed, Shawn MacDonald, Verité’s CEO, said the partnership with Mars was not a typical one limited to helping with auditing and training but one that looks across Mars’ entire extended supply chain at issues such as labour recruitment and establishing worker voice mechanisms. “This is a new and innovative way of working in partnership,” he said. “It presents an opportunity for us to scale up and expand the best practice opportunities we’ve developed. [But] what’s special is we are committed to transparency and sharing that learning so that these lessons are spread, and are not kept just within Mars.”

Another strong partner for Mars is Oxfam America. In July the company announced it was working with Oxfam to create the Farmer Income Lab, a new collaborative research platform to tackle endemic poverty among the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers, who live on less than $2 a day.  Smallholder farmers make up a large component of Mars’ own extended supply chain, producing ingredients such as cocoa, rice and mint. (See Mars leads push to lift 500m farmers from extreme poverty.)

The issues the lab will look at include the fundamental enabling factors required to increase farmer income, how to raise farmer adoption rates, and establishing the right long-term target income.

Asked whether human rights issues risk being sidelined by climate in Mars’ new Sustainable in a Generation strategy, given the high cost of investing in renewables, Sine said: “The interconnectedness of the three pillars is paramount to us. We can’t make progress on them unless we face them head-on in an interconnected way.” She added:  “A smallholder farmer won’t see an increase in income if the climate impacts are jeopardising their ability to make a living.”

Skoll Foundation  Verite  FMCG  Consumer Goods Forum  SDGs  supply chains  Human rights  World Resources Institute  cocoa  rice  mint 

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