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PMA, United Fresh partner on ethical charter for responsible labor practices

The Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association today launched the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices, a framework for responsible labor practices in fresh produce and floral supply chains.

The boards of directors of both PMA and United Fresh began this effort two years ago to create an industry-wide framework that supports the dignity of workers who are critical in bringing fresh fruits, vegetables and floral products to consumers.

The charter’s foundation is laid in values, said United Fresh President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Stenzel. “Our workers are the most important part in our ability to bring fresh produce and floral to our consumers,” he said on a conference call this morning. “We wanted to start with the concept of how important our workers are and how much we value them.”

The boards approved the charter in January, with more than 40 companies formally endorsing the charter. These include retail and foodservice companies Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Sam’s Club, Walmart and Wegmans, as well as numerous companies that produce fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. PMA and United Fresh will now encourage companies throughout the produce and floral supply chains to add their endorsement and join this growing community.

“The process, though it started with a subgroup of members from PMA and United, we tried to include a lot of different thoughts and feedback,” said Brian Kocher of Castellini Group of Cos., who co-chaired the committee on behalf of United Fresh. “We had a lot of feedback from a lot of other associations in the industry across the supply chain. We really wanted to make sure we could get something that the industry could stand behind.”

He added that the hope is to sign on hundreds of companies to endorse the charter and agree to incorporate it into their supply chain.    

In the call, Cathy Burns CEO of PMA, discussed the how the charter will be supported. “A set of references have been developed for communication of best practices and to provide a common interpretation of responsible labor standards,” she said.

The references include the following: the employer self-assessment tool, which enables a business to evaluate its own performance against the charter principles, by completing a self-assessment form that will uncover gaps in operations and/or opportunities for improvement; measurement criteria, which provides the definitions and explanations for the principles in the charter and is an operational document that producers, buyers, auditors or others may use to ensure a consistent interpretation of the charter; and the guidelines for responsible purchasers, which provides guidance on responsible purchasing practices to help companies facilitate adherence to that principle of the charter within a supply chain.

“We recognize and applaud all the good work already being done in this area both through advocacy and action, but we also recognize we have a responsibility to do more as companies and individuals to advance this cause,” said Burns. “Public launch of the charter supported by key endorsers should drive further collaboration, momentum and endorsement. Central tenets to success include education, continuous learning and progress, and day-to-day behavior and actions.”

Work on developing the Ethical Charter began in late 2015 when the boards of PMA and United Fresh formed the Joint Committee on Responsible Labor Practices to develop an industry-wide framework. This committee of buyers and suppliers incorporated input from association members, expert consultants, key stakeholders and public comments to develop a draft charter. Russell Mounce of Sam’s Club co-chaired on behalf of PMA.

“As a member of the PMA board, I’ve been involved in this work because it is important to us, the industry and our customers,” said Mounce. “This is an important step in our ongoing efforts to support the dignity of workers, wherever they may be in our supply chains.”

A list of current endorsers of the charter as well as the charter itself can be found at www.ethicalcharter.com.