AFi: A key tool for commodity roundtable members

Efeca joined the Accountability Framework initiative coalition in 2020, but prior to this fed into the outreach and consultation that established the initiative in June 2019. Through its work facilitating the UK Sustainable Palm Oil and Soya Initiatives (funded by UK Government via Partnerships for Forests), Efeca recognised the benefits the Accountability Framework could deliver, particularly to the industry-led Roundtables on palm oil and soya which are at the core of the UK’s commodity initiatives.

As AFi celebrates its second anniversary, our Rose McCulloch explains how commodity sourcing challenges are evolving for UK companies, and how the AFi has helped the work of the soya and palm oil roundtables.

— What are the principal challenges for commodity-sourcing UK companies, and how are these evolving?

There are several barriers to change faced by UK industry when it comes to sustainable commodity sourcing. Initially there are barriers to making the decision to take action, such as concern that acting sustainably would be uncompetitive, a concern that has sharpened following the global pandemic.

Beyond this there are also implementation challenges. The complexity and evolving nature of supply chains means it can be difficult for companies (particularly those downstream) to trace commodities to source and consistently monitor them as sourcing areas fluctuate to respond to seasons and price. While there are many existing solutions offered to companies, what is being asked of them is evolving and as a result the potential benefits become more uncertain, making it difficult for companies to act decisively or make long-term investments or plans.

— How diverse is the membership of the UK’s national soya and palm oil initiatives in terms of where they are in the value chain? What have been the competing priorities?

Membership of the UK’s national soya and palm oil initiatives is very diverse as these groups span the entire UK supply chain, from trading and refining companies who first bring soya and palm oil to the UK, through manufacturers, brands, producers, wholesalers, retailers and food service. The initiatives also engage with a wide range of partners who may not directly purchase commodities, but who are involved in pioneering initiatives and platforms to provide thought-leading guidance to industry.

Through the UK’s national initiatives, these diverse actors convene around the common, shared goal of sourcing commodities sustainably, prioritising discussions on what practical, costed actions might deliver change, and what timescales are reasonable to implement them.

— How has using the Accountability Framework initiative enabled the UK commodity Roundtables to establish sustainability targets that are appropriate for its members? Which AFi core principles and other sections have been applied?

The soya initiative was able to use the draft Accountability Framework as part of its development in 2018. The industry members identified the need to support resilient, sustainable supplies of soya to the UK (principles 1 and 2) and agreed to initially focus on supporting soya production that was legal and protected forests and natural landscapes. Each member committed to creating their own public, time bound plan (principle 3), regular monitoring and reporting of progress (principles 11 and 12) and importantly to collaborating with other industry leaders to identify shared solutions (principle 10).

While the UK’s palm oil national initiative was established in 2012, prior to the creation of the AFI, its principles and ways of working are aligned with the framework. As many of the members of the UK’s national initiatives are downstream actors, our work has prioritised supply chain assessment, improving traceability and implementation of policies (principles 4, 5 and 6).

— What are the key targets that the Roundtable members are now working towards?

Industry members of the UK soya and palm national initiatives are committed to supporting uptake of sustainable resilient supplies of palm oil and/or soya for the UK market, to help drive global mass market transition to sustainable (economic, environmental and social) supply chains.

— Overall, how would you characterise what AFi has done in terms of enabling intent become action for members of the Roundtables?

The Accountability Framework has been particularly helpful by providing an ‘umbrella’ framework through which industry can collaborate. As industry members of the national initiatives are so diverse, AFi provided a set of principles which we could all agree to and make a start. This was a way of not letting ‘perfect’ get in the way of good, and allowed each member to create a timebound plan that was appropriate to them and their needs, be it retailer, producer or industry association. Also, knowing the framework was consensus-based, and that a number of environmental and social civil society actors had the opportunity to feed in was helpful as this gave companies the confidence to take action, knowing it would be supported by the wider community.

 

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