By Martha Burmaster
Monsanto’s Director of Human Rights
In 2006, the Monsanto Board of Directors adopted a Human Rights Policy, which works to respect and advance the rights of our more than 20,000 employees and those of our business partners around the world. The policy focuses on nine elements: child labor, forced labor, compensation, working hours, harassment and violence, discrimination, safety, freedom of association, and legal compliance.
We’ve learned a lot in the decade since this policy was adopted, and here are 10 highlights:
Focus on the individuals that may be impacted.
Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and to have the chance to be heard and raise their concerns without fear of retaliation. When we focus on the people potentially impacted by our operations, our work is put into perspective and helps us see where we can make a difference on an individual level.
The United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were adopted in 2011, several years after we began implementation of our policy. The Guiding Principles make it clear governments and business enterprises should pay close attention to the rights of individuals from groups that may be at heightened risk of becoming vulnerable or marginalized. As a result, Monsanto has an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many individuals around the world by implementing the principles of our Human Rights Policy.
Listen to stakeholder input.
Stakeholder input was key when Monsanto decided to draft and adopt its Human Rights Policy, and it is equally important during our continuing efforts at implementation. Socially responsible investors, non- governmental organizations, and other advocates helped us mold our policy and design its implementation to make it effective. We routinely review our work with these groups which help us make it more effective. We also undertake efforts to develop partnerships with these groups because our end goal is the same – for people to be treated with dignity and respect.
Take responsibility for the supply chain.
It’s common practice in many industries to sub-contract work that goes into end products. Agriculture is no different. The nature of agriculture is seasonal; we don’t need labor all the time. We hire agencies or third parties to organize, manage and pay the labor for us. We also hire farmers, and in some cases smallholders, to grow the seeds we sell. We’ve found it’s important to ask our supply chain business partners to act consistently with our policy for the benefit of their workers. We continually examine our supply chain and work with our suppliers to ensure we are meeting the objectives of our policy with our own employees and those of our suppliers.
Value continuous improvement and collaboration.
When we find people at risk of having their human rights violated or who may be treated disrespectfully in connection with our business in a geographical area, we could pull out of the area to distance ourselves from the situation. We’ve found it’s better for everyone involved if we remain engaged and work to improve the situation. If we pull out without addressing the situation, nothing gets better for the people working there.
Follow a process.
A critical aspect to making an improvement is to have a sound process. For Monsanto, our process starts with our global risk assessment. This process helps us identify which parts of our policy might be at risk in different parts of the world where we operate, and helps us develop a road map to tackle potential issues. A systematic approach coupled with documentation of the results is critical to ensuring our work is thorough and complete. It also facilitates our learning so we can avoid future risks and challenges and apply our knowledge to similar situations.
Customize to local conditions.
Even though Monsanto has a high-level process in place for assessing conditions in our operations and supply chain, the details of our business model vary from country to country. It would be easy to take a cookie-cutter approach to implementing our human rights policy around the world, but we don’t think this would be very effective. So, we’re flexible to account for variations.
Understanding the labor force differences is key in figuring out where risky situations may exist. For example, in Indonesia, smallholders may help each other with the fieldwork, whereas larger farms in the U.S. may hire agencies to recruit labor. The local conditions really define where certain situations could pose a problem.
Adopt a risk-based approach.
As previously mentioned, our global risk assessment is key to prioritizing work. Monsanto wants to address risks and problems whenever and wherever they occur. We also want to be sure that we focus our efforts to avoid human rights violations where there is the greatest risk of occurrence. So, we’ve developed a list of countries which we characterize as high, medium, and low risk for policy violations based on existing laws, enforcement of the laws by local government, the perception of credible non-governmental organizations, and the size of Monsanto’s business and labor information, including whether the workers hired do mainly manual work, and who recruits, hires, supervises, and pays them.
Training of our employees and communicating broadly within our organization and outside of it helps us raise awareness and make progress. We have found that our work to respect and advance human rights is more effective if we embed it into each employee’s job rather than try to do everything with a small group of employees and Human Rights Champions located in each region where we operate. The challenges are big and require each employee to know the policy so they are sensitive to and knowledgeable of their own human rights and those of others and work to treat everyone with dignity and respect. This is the only way we can all enjoy the full realization of our human rights.
Collect data and track key performance indicators.
Collecting, analyzing, and publishing data is a crucial step in our plan-do-check-act model for improvement. Very early in the process, Monsanto started visiting the fields of our business partners in India and counting the workers—adults and children—and reporting this publicly. Later, we adopted the Global Reporting Initiative framework for reporting our efforts in many areas, including human rights. Some of this information is challenging to collect, but tracking and measuring is a good way to see if what we are doing is making a difference.
As Monsanto’s processes evolve, our metrics do too. Collecting data from workers on their mobile phones has been a system that allows us to identify and implement improvements in living and working conditions in some areas of the world. Ten years ago, this would not have been possible, but progress in technology has created new opportunities for communicating directly with workers in isolated or remote areas in the developed and developing world.
Appreciate diverse cultures.
As Monsanto continues to work globally to respect and advance human rights, we have learned that our approach needs to be tailored to the local people and situations. In order to be successful, an understanding of local customs and culture is fundamental. We consciously adopted an approach that values this diversity and the criticality of acting locally – even with a global policy. We have identified Human Rights Champions in each area of the world to lead our efforts who are passionate about helping others, knowledgeable of our policy, practices and commitments, and proactive leaders.
Monsanto continues to work to make strides in respecting human rights to ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect while working to make a balanced meal accessible to everyone.