Sugar cane growers face variety of sustainability issues
DANA POINT, Calif. — Experts in sustainability in cane sugar explained that satisfying the consumer interest in sustainable production is complicated by the large number of countries that are engaged in cane production and the constantly evolving definition of sustainability.
Kevin Ogorzalek of Bonsucro encouraged cane sugar producers and the companies that buy sugar to become involved in his company’s efforts to certify supply chains for a wide range of sustainability concerns. Certification is good for business because it assures a company’s brand reputation, he said.
Global brands are setting standards for securing sugar cane produced under conditions that are regarded as sustainable, but “often these are not aligned. So we are trying to set standards to reduce audit burdens,” he said.
Sustainability programs for cane sugar have to be flexible because cane is grown in so many countries and by smallholder farmers who must be taught the importance of the standards, he said.
Ogorzalek acknowledged that Bonsucro has no producers in the U.S., but said the organization is working with countries that supply sugar to the U.S. and wants to work with growers in Florida and Louisiana.
Rafael Vaya, director of corporate responsibility for American Sugar Refining Inc. (ASR Group), said his companies source sugar from more than 40 countries and are trying to establish a corporate social responsibility standard based on: no child, force slave or bonded labor; worker health and safety program; legal and ethical land land use; no bribery or corruption; and a plan to mitigate environmental impact.
“Customers want continuous improvement but must understand the supply chain cannot change overnight,” Vaya said.
But corporate social responsibility and sustainability programs provide protection against reputational risk, he said. “This is good business. The brand reputation is priceless.”