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Employers across the food sector are starting to establish whistleblowing channels to help their employees report concerns about discrimination, fraud and other abuses.
But while many other business sectors have recognised they need to do more to prevent or reduce corruption, bad behaviour and human rights abuses, the food industry is still lagging behind others.
Problems exist across the food industry, where several food production scandals – for instance the horsemeat scandal of the last decade – have brought wrongdoing in the food supply chain into sharp focus.
Add to this an increased awareness of modern slavery occurring within supply chains through forced labour – with one UK government statistic estimating 13% of all potential forced labour victims come from the food sector – and we can easily see why both consumers and businesses are concerned.
The simple fact is, that having a whistleblowing service with anti-bribery and anti-food crime clauses in place within supply chain contracts should be one of the most basic elements of commercial arrangements.
Whistleblowing hotlines and protocols can prevent or reduce a range of crimes in the sector. A list of food crime, as defined by the NCFU and refined following the 2013 Horsemeat Scandal in Europe report, include:
Theft - dishonestly obtaining food, drink or feed products to profit from their use or sale
Illegal processing - slaughtering or preparing meat and related products in unapproved premises or using unauthorised techniques
Waste diversion - illegally diverting food, drink or feed meant for disposal, back into the supply chain
Adulteration - including a foreign substance which is not on the product’s label to lower costs or fake a higher quality
Substitution - replacing a food or ingredient with another substance that is similar but inferior
Misrepresentation - marketing or labelling a product to wrongly portray its quality, safety, origin or freshness
Document fraud - making, using or possessing false documents with the intent to sell or market a fraudulent or substandard product
These specific issues run alongside the more recognisable wrongdoing in the workplace, which include bribery, bullying and harassment, discrimination, and modern slavery.
There is a compelling case to be made for robust whistleblowing reporting systems in most businesses employing more than 50 people. In fact, regulators in the food sector have always highlighted the importance of having robust due diligence procedures, but often this is not enough, especially when many food manufacturers are still lagging far behind regulatory best practices.
That’s why regulation is increasingly demanding food industry businesses become proactive in their preventative actions, which brings us to whistleblowing systems. There are many benefits to adopting a whistleblowing management system:
Helps prevent or reduces fraud – on average, organisations with a whistleblowing hotline as one of their internal controls see a 49% reduction in the total number of frauds and a 33% reduction in the duration of a fraud (research by BRCGS).
Helps prevent or avoid financial penalties – significant penalties can be imposed by the courts for food safety offences right up to and including a possible fine for each offence, and a possible prison sentence.
Helps prevent or contain any reputational damage – having advanced knowledge of any wrongdoing before it is exposed proactively helps senior management manage any public relations fallout. Being able to prove that procedures were followed, and due diligence took place can help mitigate the worst effects of wrongdoing.
Helps prevent or minimise the stress from wrongdoing incidents – take into consideration the stress and effect on the mental well-being of both management and employees from any exposure of wrongdoing.
Provides real insight into the business for senior management – whistleblowing can be used as a gauge of ‘business well-being.’ It gives senior leaders within the organisation tangible data on potential issues that can then be managed
Morale – it is no coincidence that the Corruption Perceptions Index, that scores countries on the level of corruption in the public sector, matches almost perfectly with the analysis of whistleblowing systems around the world by UN.
Confidentiality, anonymity, and protection after a whistleblower has blown the whistle acts as a positive force versus wrongdoing. Regulators know protections for whistleblowers have an essential part in combatting wrongdoing, and that is why external whistleblowing services – where anonymity can be maintained - are ideal.
After all, a happier workforce is one that trusts they are being looked after.