“Living Wages can only be realised by bringing them to the store shelves”

This autumn, German retail magazine Lebensmittel Praxis published a special on social sustainability in the food sector. Volkert Engelsman was interviewed about Eosta's social policy and Living Wage campaign. Eosta is the first supplier in Europe to bring the Living Wage concept to the store shelves, by selling Living Wage mango’s. Read the entire interview by Bettina Röttig here:

“Social sustainability is of major importance to us,” says Eosta’s CEO Volkert Engelsman. "The Sustainability Flower, which serves as a transparency and communication model for the Nature & More brand, offers information on three aspects of it: freedom, justice and solidarity. Social sustainability is not just about health and safety, it is also about personal development, education, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression. But currently we are focusing on fair wages.”

What is Eosta doing to improve working and living conditions along the supply chain?
Volkert Engelsman: We’ve had many projects for many years to improve social conditions in developing countries. In our “One Cent for the Future” campaign a price supplement of one cent per kilogram of fruit goes to the workers of suppliers in the southern hemisphere. Small clinics, new houses for workers, school libraries, solar systems and football pitches are being funded. In Mexico, an entire school has been built, while a regional symphony orchestra was supported in Argentina, which performs Verdi opera’s in the middle of the desert. That’s because suddenly a large number of Russian refugees were working on apple and pear farms. Russians are often very musical and the orchestra is balsam to their souls, while also supporting integration.

These sound like highly individual approaches and personal contacts.
It always happens as a result of personal contacts. We personalised the supply chain, as anonymity is the greatest source of misfortune. Transparent supply chains and storytelling are the key to more sustainable business. The more transparent and personal the information about farming and the people behind it, the more the consumer learns about what is done with his money in the producer country, the better.

You are currently focusing on living wages. How do you go about this?
Together with the United Nations and with development aid agencies, we are working to set benchmarks for living wages and make them come true. We have been working on this for some time, but still have a lot of work ahead of us.

Which criteria are involved and for which countries have benchmarks been set?
Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Burkina Faso. The Ivory Coast, Senegal, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, etc. are in the pipeline. It’s all about basic necessities, such as food, clothing and housing, as well as education, healthcare and saving for unexpected life events.

Where is the biggest challenge when it comes to setting benchmarks?
Many, but here’s an example: there are migrant workers from other countries who also want to feed their families in their home countries. How do I determine a living wage for them? Another example: in small farming communities, like in Tanzania, farmers often grow various products and are not just working for us. In this case, you can not speak of a living wage, as it’s really about a mixed living income; and how the prices that we pay fit into this mix.

As part of an initial project, you set yourself the goal of closing wage gaps on mango farms in Burkina Faso. How are far have you progressed with this?
For Burkina Faso, we calculated an urban living wage of approx. 247 US Dollars per month and a rural living wage of about 205 US Dollars per month. This is far more than the statutory minimum wage in Burkina Faso, which is only 55 US Dollars per month for an unskilled worker. Since May 2020, customers have been able to buy mangos from the project, with the price including a premium of ten cents per kilo for living wages. The collected premium is paid to the producer Fruiteq where it is used for initiatives that result in a structural wage increase for workers. We are planning to do the same for one of our pineapple producers in South America, as well as avocado producers in Kenya.

How do you communicate this theme at the points of sale?
On every mango, there is a sticker with the Living Wage logo. We have designed promotional materials, such as shelf stoppers, which state that the producers were paid the right wages. We also encourage people to find out more on the www.livingwage.eu website. Here we describe how we are monitored, the benchmarks and how close we are to achieving our goals.

How was the reaction been so far?
We have been applauded by retailers for not just conducting studies but also providing solutions for the point of sale.

What is your opinion of the supply chain law discussed by the federal government? How well would Eosta be prepared for this?
The sooner these laws come the better. Are we well prepared for them? Yes and no. We work according to our established sustainability and transparency system, but still have a lot of work to do. What’s holding us back is the uneven playing field on the market. At the moment, whoever exploits the most has a competitive advantage. In this case, politics could play an important part in providing equal or, in other words, fair framework conditions. However, the absence of a law can never be an excuse for doing nothing.

What do you expect from the law?
Everything starts with a fair distribution of wealth. The subject of health must also be included as a matter of urgency. At the moment, far too much damage is still being caused by agrochemicals. We must stop poisoning ourselves and the planet.

Read the original German publication by Bettina Röttig here.