Child labour, poverty and terrible working conditions lie behind the sugar you eat

Reach for a packet of sugar in the café, browse the shelves at supermarkets, or take a look at the packaging of your favourite sweet treat, and you are likely to see the Fairtrade label. What’s more, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act requires large companies to publicly report on the steps they take to ensure that forced labour is not a part of their products. The EU’s non-financial reporting requirements broaden out from modern slavery to include many issues related to social responsibility and human rights.

Provisions such as these, as well as a multitude of corporate social responsibility programmes and industry specific commitments, have been put in place as measures to correct the longstanding social risks and challenges faced by the people who produce the goods we consume. To deepen our understanding of the status of those risks and challenges, our team has, for the past nine months, taken a close look at the sugarcane consumed in the UK.

About 25% of the UK’s sugar comes from sugarcane imported from outside the EU, while the rest comes from sugar beet grown in the UK and other EU nations. Consequently, given the prevalence of the Fairtrade mark and supply chain reporting requirements, most of us are likely to have the impression that sugar is produced in a socially responsible way.

But unfortunately, serious problems including forced and child labour, poverty, and dangerous heat-related illnesses persist in today’s sugarcane industry.

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