Sugar is an essential ingredient in many of our delicious snacks. Sugar production provides a livelihood to growers and local communities, but the crop is also sometimes associated with social and environmental issues such as GHG emissions, water pollution and labor violations.
In 2020, we met our goal to source 100 percent of our sugar from responsible and sustainable sources. Our intention is to continue to increase our support to sugar cane and beet-producing communities to actively preserve local ecosystems while providing fair and decent work opportunities.
To achieve a responsible sugar supply chain, we focus on three strategic pillars:
Our sugar cane supply is mainly sourced from the U.S., Mexico and Brazil, although we source from other countries as well such as Belize and India. Our sugar beet supply comes entirely from the United States. We typically source sugar cane and sugar beet from 15‒20 direct suppliers.
We work with our suppliers to trace where our sugar comes from to the mill level and understand if the sugar we source is linked to areas or mills with sustainability concerns such as deforestation, water pollution or exploitation of workers. We will begin to provide annual updates on our sugar tracing efforts on this website at the end of 2021.
We expect all our sugar suppliers and business partners to comply with our Supplier Code of Conduct and all other relevant policies on environment and human rights. We also expect our sugar suppliers to communicate the SCOC and relevant policies throughout their supply chains.
In 2021, we will initiate an annual survey of our direct suppliers’ sustainability and responsible sourcing practices and management systems. This will be an important tool for Hershey to hear directly from suppliers on their own programming efforts and responsible sourcing journeys, allowing us to understand our suppliers’ business practices and areas for improvement as well as issues that may require follow up. Our objective is to open a dialogue between Hershey and our suppliers for sharing concerns, best practices, and where training and investment is needed for continuous improvement.
In addition, to verify that our sugar suppliers uphold our standards within their own operations we have enrolled all sugar suppliers in our Responsible Sourcing Supplier Program. As part of this program, all processing sites that provide sugar to Hershey are required to have an up-to-date Sedex Self-Assessment Questionnaire and Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA) 4-pillar audit (or equivalent). At the mill and farm level, we use credible third-party standards and verification mechanisms, including the Bonsucro and Fair Trade certifications for our sugar cane, and the Sustainability Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI Platform) Farm Sustainability Assessment for both beet and cane sugar.
We source 100 percent Bonsucro-certified Mass Balance sugar for our plants in Canada and Brazil to meet the market demand for sustainable ingredients and to support certified suppliers that their demonstrate commitment to ethical production. When feasible, we also periodically source Bonsucro-certified Mass Balance sugar for our plants in the U.S. and Mexico. When certified Mass Balance sugar is not available at any of the international sources we buy from, we purchase Bonsucro credits to match the volumes of the conventional sugar we buy from these sources.
Hershey is also a member of the Sustainability Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform to further strengthen our approach to responsibly sourcing our priority ingredients, including sugar. Through the SAI Platform, Hershey accesses tools and resources and collaborates with other stakeholders across the agricultural value chain to advance sustainable agriculture practices globally. We use the SAI Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) as another tool to assess, communicate and improve on-farm sustainability in our sugar supply chain. We ask and support our suppliers to work with their farms to achieve one of the three levels of performance within the scheme – bronze, silver and gold – which represent increasingly advanced implementation of sustainable farming practices.
Hershey has partnered with our supplier, American Sugar Refining (ASR), to implement “Learn to Grow” programs in Belize and Mexico that deploy a farmer field school model to help farmers in our supply chain in those countries learn about and implement more sustainable growing practices.
Our first program in Belize, where we also partner with Belize’s Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute, started by providing 12 training modules over 20 months on best management practices for sustainable production and focusing on improving soil health, pest management and efficient application of fertilizers and herbicides. The program also promotes a no ‘re-burning’ approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil quality.
In 2017, Hershey and ASR implemented a second phase of the program focused on cane quality and improving farmer incomes. Sugarcane farmers earn income based on the sugar content in their cane crop, a metric which is impossible to determine when looking at cane from the outside. This second phase uses cutting-edge technology to analyze cane samples and help farmers determine the optimum time to harvest their cane, capturing the most sugar content and the most income. With this approach, the program also helps farmers harvest more sugar and increase incomes without increasing land use or fertilizer use, providing further environmental benefits. During the past three years, just under 5,000 farmers have participated in the program and benefited from increased yields while lowering their environmental impact.
Based on the success of the program in Belize, in November 2019, Hershey and ASR launched a second Learn to Grow sugar program in Mexico. This program is adopting a similar approach to our Belize initiative to improve the cane quality and sugar yields to increase farmer revenue and increase adoption of more sustainable growing practices. It will also support farmer certification to the Bonsucro standard for the sustainable production of sugarcane.
In 2019 and 2020, our program in Belize also supported three new initiatives to enhance environmental stewardship and protect the rights of sugarcane workers, including a tree nursery for one of our farmer associations, a trial project to explore the use of cover crops to improve soil health in several cane fields, and support for four cane farming associations to develop a standard cane cutters’ labor contract and provide related training to harvesting group leaders to help prevent any child or forced labor. The program also procured proper Personal Protective Equipment, including 1,800 sets of shin guards and goggles, for all cane cutters in the Belize sugar industry.
Following a severe drought in Belize during the 2020 crop season which negatively impacted cane quality and sugar yields, we have collaborated with ASR to extend our Learn to Grow program there for another three years, with a new focus on helping farmers better adapt to changing weather and pest patterns driven by climate change. We will accomplish this by coaching community youth to assist farmers in accessing and utilizing technology to be able to predict these changing weather and pest patterns and providing farmers with further training on best management practices to respond to these challenges.
We are currently in the process of evaluating further opportunities through Bonsucro and other potential partners to support the development of more sustainable practices in our sugar supply chains in the US, Mexico, Brazil and India.