Africa: Certification labels don’t say everything

Sustainable certification labels don’t do anything for workers in third-world countries according to a recent study of the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). And certification labels don’t say everything, either. Many Dutch horticultural companies do export sustainable behaviour, though. They often apply their western standards abroad.

By Peter van Leth

In the context of corporate social responsibility, people often talk about the 3 Ps: planet, profit and people. In short, this refers to running a business in a profitable way with an eye for sustainable and social entrepreneurship. Something that many horticultural companies aim for when it comes to their activities within the Netherlands as well as abroad. It sometimes gets them the praise that they deserve, like the positive outcome of a study that the University of Utrecht conducted on behalf of MVO Netherlands in 2013. More often though, they must defend themselves in response to negative information published by Dutch media, such as that regarding the recent SOMO study.

Truth not in the middle

I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle. Or isn’t it? Most Dutch agricultural and horticultural companies apply their western norms regarding environmental issues and working conditions abroad, just like at home. The participants of a study trip to Kenya and Ethiopia, organised by Florensis, were able to see this for themselves. But of course, a hosting company wouldn’t take a group of visitors on a tour of malpractices.

Malpractices, which undoubtedly are happening, too. It’s hard to find a basket of apples without a single rotten specimen, after all. However, most companies have good intentions, and not just as a means to put an end to any negative publicity.

Conclusion still standing

Most of the Dutch agricultural and horticultural companies in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa pay their staff more than the local minimum wage. They also fund local community projects. They use natural resources such as water and land in an efficient way, they educate their workers, and they provide them, as well as others in the community, with health care.

The University of Utrecht concluded that the Dutch entrepreneurs apply ethical standards that are based on the values of their country of origin in their African companies. This conclusion from 2013 is still true today, and it doesn’t just apply to Africa, either.

Always room for improvement

However, development aid organisations such as Hivos feel that, even if they don’t dispute the conclusion, it isn’t a reason to lean back. The organisation often seeks publicity around Valentine’s Day, to bring the working conditions of employees, especially women, in the flower industry in East Africa and Latin America under people’s attention. Paying the minimum wage is one thing, but ensuring that women get equal, or at least improved, rights, is another. This is one of Hivos’ main topics, and not an easy one when you’re dealing with countries that are characterised by a masculine society. However, many Dutch horticultural companies are progressive in this field too, as they pay men and women the same wages.

Children who lost their parents

An example of Dutch social entrepreneurship abroad is the Social and Environmental Development Organization (SEADO) in Ethiopia. The project was founded and is supported by Florensis Ethiopia (Florensis), Red Fox Ethiopia (Dümmen Orange) and Ethiopia Cuttings (Syngenta).

Their main focus is on children who lost their parents to Aids or other diseases in the Koka region, where all three propagation companies are located. There are currently more than one hundred children aged 4 to 15 who are supported by this project.

They get help with their education (both primary and secondary school), for example by the provision of school uniforms and stationery. They also receive food, such as flour and oil, as well as medical support. There’s a strong focus on personal hygiene (cleanliness and clothing). On top of that, there’s a childcare centre where children can get a meal before or after school and get help with their homework.

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