Employers in the food industry are increasingly introducing ways for their employees to report discrimination, fraud and other wrongdoing. But while many other business sectors have realized that they need to do more to combat corruption and other irregularities, the food industry is still lagging behind in many ways.
There are significant gaps in whistleblowing opportunities within the food industry as a whole. In the past ten years, for example, there have been several scandals that exposed irregularities in the food chain, from poor working conditions to improper handling of food.
The fact that society is becoming more aware and critical of, for example, poor working conditions, animal cruelty and the climate and environment has also led to information that this type of irregularity occurs can cause great damage to brands in not least the food industry. It is therefore important to draw attention to the importance of whistleblowers in the food industry, as well as to learn about what whistleblowing in this industry can look like and how to promote it. In this way, food companies can prevent disasters that could damage customers' trust in them.
Why whistleblowing is needed in the food industry
“Food fraud”, sometimes referred to as “economically motivated adulteration”, has long been a problem in the food industry. Methods to save money can sometimes lead to greater negative consequences and reduced quality of the products. More recently, chilies with the carcinogen Sudan Red, sunflower oil with mineral oil and milk with melamine are all examples of consequences of this.
As the international trade in food has grown and the food market has become more globalized, irregularities of this type have increased significantly. When they occur, the effects can be far-reaching and devastating, both for the producer, the seller, and the customer. In 2008, melamine was used in China to hide the fact that milk had been tampered with, and infant formula made with the tampered milk caused kidney damage in more than 300,000 infants. Of these children, 54,000 were hospitalized and 6 lost their lives.
Using only traditional methods such as rigorous product testing to detect this type of irregularity is next to impossible. This shows how important it is to facilitate whistleblowing at all stages of manufacturing, packaging, and sales. There are other types of irregularities that show how essential it is to tell the truth (whether anonymously or not). One is that the routines that are supposed to ensure that the food is safe to eat have major flaws. For example, it still happens today that people get extra bonuses or affirmative action if they keep quiet and don't tell management about food safety problems.
What whistleblowing in the food industry aims to prevent
- Theft – Dishonestly obtaining food, drink or feed products for personal gain or sale.
- Illegal processing – Slaughter or preparation of meat and related products in unapproved premises or with unauthorized technology and/or equipment.
- Waste Diversion – Illegal diversion of food, drink or feed intended for disposal, back into the supply chain.
- Counterfeiting – For example, that a product contains a foreign substance that 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 or directly harmful.
- Misrepresentation – Marketing or labeling a product to misrepresent its quality, safety, origin, or freshness.
- Document Fraud – Creating, using or possessing false documents intending to sell or marketing a fraudulent or substandard product.
These run alongside the more recognizable and traditional workplace abuses found in most industries, such as:
- Bribery – Where an employee or associate accepts or issues a bribe to obtain a business advantage for either himself or his organization.
- Bullying and Harassment – Behavior that makes someone feel harassed or violated.
- Discrimination – Unfair or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, for example because of race, age, gender, or disability.
- Modern Slavery – The recruitment, movement, harboring or receiving of children, women, or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, fraud, or other means of exploitation.
- Health and Safety – The override of risk assessment and sensible management of risk to protect your employees and your business.
Also read: 5 examples of misconduct in the workplace
Whistleblowing is the way forward in the food industry
As a positive force against wrongdoing, privacy, anonymity, and whistleblower protection are all good things. Regulators know that protecting whistleblowers is an important part of stopping wrongdoing, which is why whistleblower services like Visslan are a critical cornerstone.
After all, a happy staff is one who knows they will be well taken care of, even when injustices strike the workplace. This is true in all industries, but especially in the food industry, which has historically had major problems with injustice.