New ethics standards give consumers 'peace of mind' agricultural workers treated fairly

The standards are part of the NZGAP certification.
The standards are part of the NZGAP certification. Photo credit: Getty

Consumers will soon be able to have more confidence that food producers are treating their staff ethically with new standards introduced on Tuesday.

The standards are part of the New Zealand Good Agricultural Practice (NZGAP) certification and will not only apply to growers but also contractors providing services to GAP-certified growers or supply chain operators. The standards will be introduced as a "social practice add-on" and an accompanying "contractor standard" to existing NZGAP certification.

"Put simply, the new module uses independent, certified auditors to check growers' employment practices to certify that all workers are treated fairly," says NZGAP manager Damien Farrelly.

Kylie Faulkner, president of the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association and compliance manager at Sutherland Produce, was involved in a trial of the physical auditing process.

"It was really interesting and was a great chance for us to see what NZGAP were trying to achieve and as a grower be able to recognise or show that we are ethical," Faulkner told Newshub.

"That's why we really wanted to get behind it because the end consumer - the people that are buying the product - want to know their food is grown safely and has also been grown in an ethical way."

She said the fact the standards are an added module to existing NZGAP certification makes it easier for all involved.

"It's nice to be able to have the extra add-on that we can put all together so we can have one auditor come down to what we call the farm gate, rather than having lots of different people coming at different times.

"Instead of having a whole lot of different systems and things like that we've been able to incorporate all of these things into this one trusted system, which is a really fantastic thing for growers because we want to be able to have a one-stop-shop, because really what we want to do is concentrate on doing the things that we're good at - which is growing good food in a healthy and safe way."

The new standards would not only benefit growers, she said, but also give consumers "peace of mind".

"I think it's good for the domestic market to have this social practice add-on, and consumers and our customers are definitely pushing for this - they want confidence."

Farrelly said the certification built on existing global standards that ensure the safe and sustainable production of fruit and vegetables, such as GRASP and SMETA, but NZGAP had "taken it further to ensure the fair treatment of staff here in New Zealand".

"The new module has been specifically developed by NZGAP in collaboration with regulators to meet requirements of New Zealand employment law and ethical standards."

New standards also ensure any contractors used by growers are meeting their obligations to employees.

Kylie Faulkner.
Kylie Faulkner. Photo credit: Newshub.

Faulkner said although there was "always room for improvement", she didn't believe there were widespread issues with the treatment of workers in the sector. Rather, the certification was focused on proving standards that were already in place.

"I don't know if there are, necessarily, issues. I think it's just for us it's more recognition that we are doing things the right way and that our customers - like the supermarkets or the processors or the restaurants -  know that they can guarantee because of the industry-led assurance programme that the products they're buying are safe - that they're good products but they're also made in a fair and ethical way."