Verstegen imports herbs and spices from countries all over the world. Their recipe for success leaves no room for child labour. With support from the Fund against Child Labour (FBK), the company is doing everything it can to reduce that risk. Verstegen, based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, has been in business since 1886.
Seasonal labour risks
Most of Verstegen’s products come from smaller-scale farms. “What you sometimes see is that the children help out during the busy harvest season,” says Marianne van Keep, Director of Sustainability and Purchasing. “This does not have to be a problem. Unless it means that these children no longer go to school. This is usually the case with seasonal labour.” Verstegen’s production chain makes little use of seasonal labour. Still, Van Keep wants to make sure that children are no longer involved.
“With financial support from FBK, we carried out a series of theoretical risk analyses for all our products from various countries: one for each product-country combination. We then arranged on-site investigations. The idea was to learn where both the risk and our impact are the greatest. This concerned pilot projects in Turkey, India and Guatemala.”
Joint and regional approach
In some pilots, investigators noted child labour. But, this could not be linked to the Verstegen chain. It does give cause for further investigation. “This often involves nomadic communities who harvest all kinds of crops. You have to approach this at a regional level. In the Middle East, for example, we are dealing with this issue through the Sustainable Spice Initiative (SSI).” This is an initiative from an international group of NGOs and companies in the herb and spice industry. The goal of SSI is full sustainability in the production and trade of herbs and spices. “We are working with our suppliers in South America to achieve the same goal. I am quite pleased with that,” Van Keep says.
One good step leads to another
The pilots and follow-up investigations raised awareness at Verstegen. “We discovered a risk in connection with one of our suppliers. While they run a responsible business, they sometimes buy products from a market that involves child labour. Things like that underline the importance of transparency in the chain. In an ideal situation, we would like to get to know all our farmers. That makes it much easier to build trust, exchange knowledge and support them as entrepreneurs.”
Van Keep notes that many companies seem afraid to investigate whether their products involve child labour. “A good first step is admitting you do not know for certain. After that, you must do whatever you can to find out the facts. You cannot make child labour disappear by pretending it does not exist.”
Would you like to know more?
Are you interested in investigating and reducing child labour within your chain? Read more about the FBK scheme.