Forced Labor and the Impact on Supply Chain: What Retailers and Manufacturers Need to Know

By Canaan Rice, Ethical Sourcing Manager, Safe Quality Food Institute

In today’s “prosumer” world, consumers are placing greater pressure on suppliers and retailers to raise their standards and performance with regards to how products are made and who makes them. Product sourcing is a supply chain responsibility and the accountability rests on the shoulders of many people, companies, and governments. The Safe Quality Food Institute’s Fundamentals Factors for Social Responsibility Standard (F2SR), based off ILO (International Labor Organization) guidelines, includes provisions to mitigate against forced labor.

To address the growing importance of ethical sourcing in the supply chain and meet the demand for accredited, third-party, socially responsible certification in this area, I recently came on board at SQFI to manage and grow the Ethical Sourcing certification program. As part of my exploration into ethical sourcing issues, I recently had the opportunity to talk to Matt Friedman, an international human trafficking expert and CEO of the Mekong Club, on the topic of forced labor and what role retailers and manufacturers can play in mitigating it.

Matt, what is the Mekong Club?

The Mekong Club is a non-profit organization that uses a business-to-business approach to fight forced labor. Bridging the gap between the public and private sectors, the Mekong Club helps companies to understand the complexities of forced labor and to reduce vulnerability within their supply chains. Through our corporate tools, private sector ambassadors, and awareness and advocacy efforts we have reached more than 1,000 companies, trained 50,000+ professionals, developed 17 corporate tools, and offered technical assistance to more than 600 companies.

How broad is the problem of forced labor within the supply chain?

According to the ILO, 25 million people around the world are trapped in forced labor, a significant percentage of which are associated with consumer goods supply chains. Of the 16 million victims of forced labor in the private sector, 11% are in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector; 9% in the wholesale and trade sector, and 15% in manufacturing.

How can technology can be used to address the issue?

In collaboration with The Mekong Club, the United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society (UNU-CS) has developed a cost-effective audit tool called Apprise. This application can be downloaded to a Smartphone and used to screen vulnerable populations in the fishing and seafood processing, manufacturing and entertainment industries. Apprise allows workers to anonymously and confidentially respond to questions about their work conditions. It is currently being tested and piloted to screen migrant workers across supply chains in Asia and the Pacific region.

The Mekong Club is also working with technology companies to create blockchain-based tools for the private sector to identify and eradicate forced labor from their supply chains. The first project was launched in Thailand earlier this year and focused on working with Burmese migrants on Thai shrimp farms.

What’s the first step for responsible manufacturing in the food industry?

Conducting a risk-assessment is the first step to preventing and mitigating forced labor situations. Retailers and suppliers can:

  • Conduct investigative audits that illuminate the real conditions faced by workers throughout the supply chain and describe them to top-level corporate decision-makers;
  • Conduct action-oriented training for staff in global corporations and their suppliers with the goal of expanding awareness and helping reduce the negative impacts of global sourcing;
  • Consult at the points of maximum leverage on how to implement effective human rights protections within global businesses; and
  • Facilitate multi-stakeholder initiatives that join private sector business, workers, labor, civil society, and governments to focus on both strategic and practical levels with the goal of achieving positive social change.

Join us at the 2019 SQF Conference in San Antonio, Texas, November 5-7 to hear Matt’s eye-opening keynote discussing food retail and food manufacturer liability and reputation risks; and discover proactive monitoring and auditing approaches.

We all play a role in responsible sourcing – for the good of consumers and the health of your brand.

Welcome Canaan!

We are pleased to welcome Canaan Rice to the SQFI Family! We were very fortunate to find Canaan, who is a professional auditor with a number of certifications including the ability to audit organics, ISO 9000 (quality certification), HACCP, GMO and others. He has audited facilities and growers in the US and LATAM for the last 9 years, ensuring the safety of their products and environmental and social management practices. Canaan has an undergraduate degree in Spanish and Economics from the University of Iowa and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina.

3 Interesting Facts about Canaan:
  1. I am a huge sports fan (go Seahawks!) and play basketball and volleyball.
  2. I speak 3 languages (English, Spanish, and Portuguese).
  3. I see great value in sustainability and am a strong supporter of the SQFI Ethical Sourcing Standard.

Please join us in welcoming him to the SQFI and FMI family:

We’re Hiring! – Ethical Sourcing Manager

Primary Purpose

The primary purpose of this position is to continue to develop and manage the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI) Ethical Sourcing (ES) program.

Essential Job Functions

Business Management:

  • Assist in developing a strategy for implementation of the ES program
  • Oversee the development and execution of the ES program including:
    • Technical program development
    • Governance policies and procedures
    • Logistics
    • Benchmarking requirements
  • Coordinate ES technical and compliance activities with SQFI technical team
  • Oversee certification body (CB) activities
  • In conjunction with the SQFI and FMI marketing teams, develop and direct an overall marketing strategy for Ethical Sourcing and oversee:
    • Website updates
    • Promotional materials
    • Meeting and conference participation
  • Coordinate financial management with SVP and Sr. Director of Operations
    • Monitor budgetary and financial benchmarks
  • Oversee a stakeholder advisory council that will help to develop technical advances for the ES program
  • Direct efforts to gain buyer acceptance of the program
  • Be the primary lead for sales of the ES program to suppliers
  • Direct and manage the resources and budgets of the ES program, including consultants and staff.

Other Job Functions

  • Duties will include working with internal and external constituents, including those who work outside the U.S.
  • Other responsibilities and duties as assigned or directed.
  • Normal office environment requiring use of typical business equipment (e.g., computer, telephone, fax, and copier).
  • Ability to travel to conventions and conferences.
  • Flexible about working weekends and nights as required.
  • Other duties and projects as assigned or directed.

Physical Requirements

  • Normal office environment requiring use of typical business equipment (e.g., computer, telephone, fax and copier machines).
  • Willingness to travel and be on the road.
  • Ability to lift 25 lbs

Education Skills Experience Required

  • College degree in business
  • Minimum of two to four years prior work experience in business management
  • Relevant sales and negotiating experience is required
  • Strong customer service and work ethic skills
  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to speak in front of large audiences
  • Strong grammar and proofreading skills
  • Strong time management and project planning skills
  • Ability to plan marketing and sales campaigns
  • Budget development knowledge
  • Excellent telephone and interpersonal communication skills
  • Computer literacy with understanding of and ability to use Microsoft Office products.  Advanced competency with Excel and PowerPoint is required
  • Knowledge and understanding of routine office procedures, including use of fax, copier, telephone, and computer
  • Ability to organize, prioritize and accomplish multiple tasks with attention to detail
  • Professional demeanor, approach, and appearance

FMI is an equal opportunity employer.

Submit Your Application Here

SQFI: Making your Food Safe and Sustainable

Years ago, when things were a little simpler, our food came right from the land we lived on or from our neighbors down the road.  You knew exactly where things came from and what you were getting.  As populations grew in size and large groups of people moved to cities, the local supply of food had to be supplemented with food brought in from other places. We needed more. A lot more!

Today, our food comes from all around the world. It might be grown, raised or harvested down the road, across the country or on the other side of the ocean. It comes to us on boats, trains, planes and trucks. Then we fill our grocery carts with it and take it home to our families.

SQFI not only manages the SQF Program, but we also manage the SQFI Ethical Sourcing Program.  We are bridging the gap and connecting the dots from how our food is grown, manufactured, processed, packed and shipped with making sure those actions are done ethically and sustainably.

In our “prosumer” world, consumers utilize their stake in the market to advocate for safer, better quality products and to dictate how those products are made. Scandals connected to forced labor, child labor, pollution and lack of corporate transparency directly impact the choices consumers make, which creates a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. The SQFI Ethical Sourcing Standard (ESS) effectively reduces these negative risks by addressing each of the above issues.

The ESS is a voluntary supplement for companies who are committed to ensuring socially and environmentally responsible practices in food production. The ESS is a system that combines growing and processing food with environmental and social stewardship. This system embraces ethical and transparent practices, with care taken in the treatment of those who grow, harvest, and manufacture food across the supply chain, and with respect given to the health of consumers.

The ESS for food harvesting and manufacturing is a tiered certification program that provides a set of benchmarks demonstrating an organization’s commitment to ethical sourcing in the following areas:

Social Management: Social management programs under the ESS safeguard against discrimination and harassment in the workplace, promote transparent and lawful wage practices, and advocate fair labor practices that are non-exploitive and free of forced labor.

Environmental Management: Energy consumption, water use, waste management and pollution prevention are critical to ethical business practices. The ESS addresses these issues, as well as occupational health and safety, regulatory compliance, equipment maintenance, and incident management to verify safe working conditions and reduce negative environmental impacts.

Monitoring and Management Review: This critical component of ESS includes internal audits, monitoring, record keeping and management review. Here, corrective and preventative action takes place and senior company officials address employee concerns.

Flexible, Three-Tier Certification: The Ethical Sourcing Standard allows for flexible, three-tier certification options, each with a growing demonstration of the ESS’s provisions. Companies can choose the level of certification to pursue and are awarded certification upon successful completion of their audit.

Our mission has always been to deliver consistent, globally recognized food safety and quality certification that is based on sound scientific principles, valued by all stakeholders, and consistently applied across all industry sectors.  In the best interests of consumers, food businesses, retailers, and society as a whole, we believe that the time has come to turn our collective attention to the sustainable and ethical sourcing of products throughout the supply chain.  We invite you to join us in this discussion, and help us encourage the highest global standards of ethical behavior in the food industry.


For more information about the SQFI Ethical Sourcing Standard, please visit

Safe Quality Food Institute Announces Ethical Sourcing Standard

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Safe Quality Food Institute Announces Ethical Sourcing Standard

First food safety program to offer responsible sourcing certification

ARLINGTON, VA – March 19, 2015 – The Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI) today announces its Ethical Sourcing Standard – a voluntary supplement for companies who are committed to ensuring socially and environmentally responsible practices in food production. The Ethical Sourcing Standard is a system which combines growing and processing food with environmental and social stewardship. This system embraces ethical and transparent practices, with care taken in the treatment of those who grow, harvest and manufacture food across the supply chain, and with respect given to the health of consumers.

According to Robert Garfield, Senior Vice President of SQFI, conscientious consumers are looking beyond food safety and seeking assurance, now more than ever, that their food has been grown and processed in a manner that meets high standards of social and environmental responsibility.

“We saw this growing consumer demand, and immediately began developing the Ethical Sourcing Standard. We are very excited to become the first food safety program to offer an Ethical Sourcing certification,” Garfield explains. “For companies, receiving this certification shows their customers that sourcing responsibly throughout the supply chain is important.”

SQFI’s Ethical Sourcing Standard addresses a host of social and environmental issues. To obtain a certificate of completion, food suppliers will need to meet audit standards concerning issues such as wage compliance, child labor, occupational health and safety, pollution prevention, air emissions management, and waste management.

For more information on SQFI’s Ethical Sourcing standard, visit The complete Ethical Sourcing Standard, certification and implementation requirements, and other resources are available on the website for download, free of charge. To stay abreast of the latest with SQFI and the industry trends, be sure to follow SQFI on Twitter @SQFI and Facebook.

About The Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI)

The Safe Quality Food (SQF) program is recognized by retailers and foodservice providers around the world as a rigorous, credible food safety management system. It is the only certification system recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) that offers certificates for primary production, food manufacturing, distribution and agent/broker management. This enables suppliers to assure their customers that food has been produced, processed, prepared and handled according to the highest possible standards at all levels of the supply chain. Additionally as a division of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the SQF program incorporates continual retailer feedback about consumer concerns. This information is passed on to SQF certified suppliers, keeping them a step ahead of their competitors.