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Strategic focus directs corporate responsibility

By Laura Crowley , 31-Jul-2008

The vast offer of aid to China following its devastating earthquake in May reflects the food industry’s increasing move towards displaying strategic corporate responsibility.

China is a high-potential market with ever-growing business opportunities, and Western food and beverage companies have been keen to step up to the mark and help communities affected by the tragedy.

“A lot is happening in the food industry at the moment as companies continue to devote money to disaster areas, and the aid is becoming more strategic,” Kavita Prakash-Mani, vice president of client services at UK consultancy firm SustainAbility, told FoodNavigator.com.

“Companies are pleased to be seen helping communities is areas where they have a lot of business, and China is a very interesting market for all companies right now.”

The 8-magnitude earthquake that hit China in May was the country’s worst for 50 years. More than 87,000 people were killed or are missing. Many of the dead were children because the earthquake struck during the school day.

Symrise announced earlier this month that it has provided funds for the construction of a temporary school in an area heavily affected by the disaster, while last month Cargill pledged to help provide education research and psychotherapy aid for children in Sichuan.

Other firms, such as the Coca Cola Company, the Dow Chemical Company and restaurant group Yum! Brands, also rushed to demonstrate generosity in the wake of the earthquake.

While there is a PR element to fulfilling a company’s corporate responsibility, Zhang said actions are not PR-driven, but part of a process of investing in a community that the company is part of.

She added: “There have been strong calls from governments, NGOs and consumers for global players to participate in development efforts. Corporate responsibility will increasingly become a priority to companies, pushed forward by consumers who are paying more attention to how their food is produced and the impact their lifestyles have on the rest of the world.”

Symrise offers education relief

German flavour and fragrances company Symrise donated €50,000 this month to fund the construction of a temporary school in Sichuan, at the heart of China’s earthquake zone.

In cooperation with the NGO, the China Youth and Development Fund (CYDF), the Symrise School of Hope” will provide 20 classrooms, with space for 500 students. It will be used for between two and five years while the Chinese government build official schools again.

“China is highly strategically important for us as it rapidly growing to become the biggest sub-region in the Asia Pacific area,” said Declan MacFadden, regional president of the flavour and nutrition division.

“The country has been increasingly good to use as a business and we believe in giving something back. Helping in this way is the very least we can do.”

MacFadden said Symrise hopes it is not just a one-off effort on Symrise’s part, hoping that this will be the start of a long-standing involvement in the region.

He said: “We want to have links with the school in the future and get actively involved in its running. We dream that children can get lectures from people in the company to give the children the opportunity to get involved in the company.

Prakash-Mani said companies across the industry are more and more offering long-term solutions to developing countries and agricultural bases, thereby benefiting the entire production cycle as well as the farming communities. This is happening notably in cocoa and coffee production.

“There are increasing opportunities for company to help from the grass roots of the production line, with work focusing on new technologies and long-term opportunities,” she said.

Cargill works on long-term sustainability

International food firm Cargill has teamed up with Beijing Normal University to work on education policy research and provide psychotherapy aid for children in Sichuan Province. It has offered 3m Chinese RMB (€281,000) for the programme, as well as donating 3.1m RMB to the Red Cross in China.

Norwell Coquillard, president of Cargill China, said: “Our hearts go out to the millions of people impacted by the earthquake, especially the children who have lost their homes and families. We want to play a part to help the Chinese people devastated by the earthquake rebuild their lives.”

Cargill has 30 plants in China, and trade with the country amounts to about $5bn (€3.2bn), with sales in China exceeding $1.2bn (€769m). It employs more than 4,400 people there.

As well as the immediate aid following the earthquake, Cargill has put resources towards sustainable agriculture and securing food supply in China. It provides training to farmers, for example, as well as making jobs and opportunities available at the grass roots level.

Catherine Zhang, spokesperson, told FoodNavigator.com: “We aim to improve the efficiency of distribution systems for food and agriculture products and share our worldwide agriculture and food expertise with Chinese government and customers.”

Zhang added: “Cargill views it as extremely important to help the communities in which it operates. Our funds sought to address both short-term and immediate needs but also invest in the long-term infrastructure of effective disaster relief in China, with a focus on children and their education.”

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