Action Research on Workforce Nutrition in the Supply Chains
Improving nutrition through the workplace, where 58 percent of the global population spend at least one-third of their adult lives, has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of a range of key solutions to tackling the malnutrition crisis worldwide. The benefits to businesses, meanwhile, have been proven time and time again, with studies estimating the returns on investment (RoI) for companies on workforce nutrition programs to be up to 6:1. Workforce nutrition programs are therefore gaining increasing traction in the private sector, especially those focusing on direct employees.
However, to date, these programs have primarily been concentrated in high-income countries and predominantly for white-collar office workers, while relatively few companies have sought to address malnutrition among their ‘indirect employees’: global supply chain workers.This is despite rates of malnutrition being disproportionately high among low-earning and low-skilled workers in agriculture and low-tech manufacturing in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). For example, ATNI’s 2021 Global Access to Nutrition Index found that only eight of the 25 largest food and beverage companies worldwide showed evidence of addressing malnutrition in their supply chains, many of these being largely ad hoc projects with only a marginal focus on nutrition.
- 1 in 5 jobs contribute to global supply chains, the majority based in LMICs, where rates of malnutrition are disproportionately high.
- E.g. 18% of agricultural and 12% of manufacturing workers in LMICs are underweight. Especially high among women.
- Many of the causes of malnutrition are directly associated with the work (e.g. food environment, low incomes, long working hours).
- Effects of poor diets also have a direct effect on work output and resilience, causing vicious cycle of poverty among families and communities.
- Multinational companies have the power, resources and reach to positively impact nutrition for millions of workers.
Companies therefore have the opportunity and responsibility to address malnutrition in their supply chains
- Business case: The companies ATNI interviewed were enthusiastic about the immense value of these programs, emphasizing how their substantial intangible benefits go beyond financial returns. For example, by increasing their suppliers’ productivity and lowering their costs and staff turnover, this ensured greater continuity and quality of supply and strengthened supplier relationships, which together increase supply chain resilience. Moreover, the danger of not addressing malnutrition was also identified as a potential reputational risk and threat to their commitments to corporate citizenship and responsible business, and, therefore, their brand.
- Costs: It was also found that these programs did not always require huge sums of investment beyond the start-up costs and initial capacity-building, with some interventions being largely self-perpetuating, while many suppliers (who see the benefits) are willing to shoulder the day-to-day costs themselves. Specific interventions range in cost, but many only require a tweaking of existing activities to incorporate nutrition elements or leveraging of existing programs and structures to extend nutrition to the workforce, rather than building systems from scratch. Meanwhile, given the potentially significant public health and social impact of such programs, (co-)funding opportunities can be sought with donors, host governments, and partnerships.
- Wide range of approaches possible: Across the six case studies, ATNI identified nearly 30 distinct interventions, across four key workforce nutrition pillars: healthy food at work (in this context, relating to addressing availability, access, and affordability), nutrition education and behavioral change, breastfeeding support, and nutrition-related health check-ups.
- Nature’s Pride’s Nutrition at Work Programmes: Nature’s Pride aims to improve health and well-being in its value chain by promoting better nutrition of workers in the horticulture sector, using its expertise in fruit and vegetables, and working through its established in-country networks of growers.
- Nestlé’s Farmer Family Nutrition Initiative: Nestlé’s Farmer Family Nutrition (FFN) initiative aims to improve the lives and wellbeing of smallholder farmers’ families by increasing food availability and diet diversity among communities, including smallholder farmers, in Nestlé priority sourcing locations. It does this by, for example, improving nutrition on household level with nutrition education programs, helping farmers to set up their own kitchen gardens, and providing entrepreneurial training to sell surpluses if available
- Olam’s Healthy Living Programme: Olam’s stated purpose as a company is to reimagine global agriculture and food systems. As part of this, the Olam Healthy Living (OHL) programme aims to improve the wellbeing of people in workplaces and communities where it operates by running initiatives that focus on promoting wellness, preventing infectious diseases and boosting food security and nutrition. Nutrition is addressed within the four pillars of workforce nutrition, as defined by the Workforce Nutrition Alliance, adjusted to the local situation.
- Twinings’ Sourced with Care Initiative: Twining’s program aims to improve the lives of communities from which it sources its tea and herbs, with a focus on life opportunities (including health and nutrition), living standards and livelihoods/land, depending on local needs.
- Unilever’s Seeds of Prosperity Initiative: Unilever has partnered with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) to set up Seeds of Prosperity: a series of interventions to improve health and nutrition of workers on tea estates by increasing the demand for and access to healthy nutrition and to address nutrition-related health issues (such as handwashing). The initiative was implemented in cooperation with NGOs for local delivery, such as Solidaridad and Dharma Life in India.
- VF Corporation’s Worker and Community Development Initiative: VF Corporation is partnering with CARE International and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) to improve health and nutrition in the supply chain through initiatives to increase health and nutrition literacy of management and employees of supplying factories, and to build capacity both within (in-house canteens and health providers) and beyond (local food vendors) the supplier factories. It is a strand of the company’s extensive Worker and Community Development (WCD) initiative.
ATNI hopes that this paper provides inspiration to companies to invest in improving nutrition for workers in their supply chains who need it the most. It is a call to action for both companies and other organizations working with companies in their supply chains, including NGOs, policymakers and other accountability mechanism organizations, to engage companies to do more for the nutrition and health of their supply chain workers, and together contribute to ending hunger and poverty globally.