As the COVID19 pandemic continues its unrelenting march across the globe, one of the biggest concerns is the safety and continuity of the food supply chain both in the short and long-term that will enable all of us to survive and thrive. Images of cars lined up for miles outside of food banks across the country are testament to growing food insecurity as a result of the economic downturn that may be with us for the long term.
The pandemic is highlighting how inequality can exacerbate adverse impacts on the health, safety and economic well-being of the same populations who bear the disproportionate burden of chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among others. Preliminary research suggests that obesity may be a risk factor for developing severe COVID19 symptoms. Meanwhile, frontline workers in the food value chain who are considered essential and reporting for work during the pandemic are being exposed to increased risk of contagion.
Given their ability to influence the lives of millions of customers and workers, in early June of 2020 investors sent letters to food & beverage companies (Campbell's Soup; Cocal Cola; Conagra; General Mills; Kellogg's, Keurig Dr. Pepper; Kraft Heinz; Mondelez; Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever) and retailers (Kroger, Target and Dollar Tree), asking the companies to consider scaling-up efforts to protect the health and safety of both their employees and customers and to ensure that value chains continue to function as expeditiously as possible while recognizing the challenges related to food production and the safety of their workforce.
Specifically investors asked companies to address short-term demands on the food supply chain by:
● Strengthening the accessibility and affordability of food products
● Ensuring worker, customer, visitor and vendor safety during the crisis
● Ensuring the quality of food donations and incorporating healthy guidelines into the company’s donation policies.
Strengthen long-term business practices by:
● Developing plans to strengthen the supply chain and employ safeguards to both anticipate, prevent and mitigate changes in supply and demand during future epidemics or pandemics
● Adopting ethical and socially responsible marketing practices to ensure that company practices are not fueling health inequities
● Establishing adequate policies and protocols to enhance the safety and health and financial well-being of workers, as well as monitoring the adherence and implementation of the protocols. Examples include, but are not limited to, the provision of healthcare benefits that cover physical and mental health, paid sick leave, investment in wellness initiatives, sustainable wages, etc.
● Paying a fair share of taxes to ensure continued investment in the healthcare infrastructure and social safety nets to be prepared for a potential crisis like this in the future globally.