Food and Beverage
The Food and Beverage (F&B) industry includes all companies involved in producing, processing, packaging, transporting, and distributing edible goods - from the farm (or factory) to the fork. The industry provides a large source of employment, particularly in developing countries. The International Labour Organization (ILO) an estimated 22 million workers are employed in the global food and beverage manufacturing alone. These figures are likely to increase significantly if jobs throughout the food production system were counted.
The food and beverage industry may interact with children at different stages throughout the supply chain of a product, they may be workers, or children of workers on farms. Children may also be community members living alongside food processing factories or consumers of F&B products.
Children are affected in multiple ways by the F&B industry. They are dependents of workers, members of the community, and at times as workers themselves. Child labour has long been a recognised concern in the industry. However, the impact of the industry on children extends beyond child labour. Children’s rights in the workplace may be impacted by inadequate employment protections for parents and caregivers and exposure to hazardous chemicals and toxins for young workers. Children may also be pushed into child labour as a result of poverty.
The F&B industry faces growing risks in relation to children’s rights in the marketplace. High-sugar and calorie dense food have brought the F&B industry into the spotlight, with a growing body of evidence showing the negative contribution of child-directed marketing and advertising of food on overweight and obesity rates in children. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that with the current rate of growth, 70 million infants and young children will be overweight or obese by 2025. These children are likely to encounter longer term health problems as overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.
Community and Environment
Children’s rights in the community and environment are impacted throughout the F&B industry, from agricultural production right through to product waste and recycling. F&B companies may directly harm children by exposing children to harmful chemicals or contaminating local water supplies. However, indirect impacts, such environmental degradation, may disrupt agricultural production and undermine the livelihoods of local communities, which, in turn, may financially prevent children from accessing basic services such as health and education.
These workplace, community and environment and marketplace risks highlight the need for the F&B industry to develop due diligence strategies to ensure the rights of children are respected throughout the full lifecycle of the product from farm to fork. Due to the large number of people employed in the F&B supply chain and children consuming F&B products, the industry’s impact can be highly scalable.
F&B businesses that want to better understand how they are currently meeting their responsibilities in their supply chains to respect children’s rights and how they can further support children’s rights in their operations and supply chains, can use the UNICEF Tool Children’s Rights in Impact Assessments. The tool can help businesses identify their salient risks and outline specific actions they can take. If issues relating to child labour are identified, companies can seek further guidance from the Child Labour Guidance Tool for Business, jointly developed by the International Labour Organisation and the International Organisation of Employers. The tool explains clearly what the responsibility of business is in preventing and remedying child labour and sets out clear steps on how business can do this, within the framework of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The OECD-FAO Guidelines for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains provide guidance for F&B companies looking to strengthen their due diligence procedures. UNICEF’s commodity-focused studies on tea, palm oil and cocoa may also help F&B industries identify specific risks in their agricultural supply chain. Furthermore, UNICEF’s collaboration with DLA Piper on advertising and marketing, and Nacional de Salud Publica on product labelling are also useful guides for businesses looking to respect children’s rights in the marketplace.