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Food Is a Human Right, Not a Commodity

Image Credit: Food Secure Canada

Food is not a business like others. Food is not a commodity; it is not a consumer good - It is far more important. It is a human right, so defined by the United Nations.

Food is part of each of us. Our food tells a point of view on the world, a meaning in life. But we have lost this meaning.

Emmanuel Faber Speech CGF / June 22nd 2017. Click to enlarge.

We know the global industrial food system did miracles to broaden food access and reduce hunger. But it is reaching its limits. We are the first generation that consciously lives with them: obesity and malnutrition. Waste of food and water. Soil depletion. Climate change. Forced labor. Lack of women’s empowerment. The solitude of farmers. The crowds of migrants. They are all interconnected issues and related to the fact that the food system has disconnected people from their food. Many kids and even adults don't even know the link between meat and animals, between fruits and trees. And this is a problem.

Traveling the world, I met a growing number of people who now really want to know what their food is made of, how it is grown, how it is prepared — and importantly: who is behind the food brands.

I also met with people who invent new ways to protect soils, save water, develop sustainable agriculture solutions. With pioneers of urban agriculture, of digital disruption fostering food innovation. People inventing new recipes, new ways to deliver, to share food and reduce waste. People from all generations, all countries, who are reconnecting the dots, re-synchronizing, food cycles — all of them contributing to a movement that we call the ‘Alimentation Revolution’ in search of this lost meaning.

Because the truth is: we have one planet. And we have one life, one health. Single and unique.

One Planet. One Health. Today, Danone commits to protect and nourish both.

I, therefore, believe that the founding vision set for our company by Antoine Riboud, inspired by discussions with the young generation of the May ‘68 French revolts, is the right one for our company: a dual project of both economic value creation and social progress. Antoine had a lifetime commitment to this vision, followed by his son Franck, who, in two decades as CEO of Danone, revived the Carasso family's vision of yogurt as a health product and led us to create a unique portfolio of health-focused food and water brands.

The right to food is a fundamental of social justice

Every day now, in my job as CEO, I strive to uphold this vision of the world. Economy without social progress is barbarity. Social progress without economy is utopia. This is why the ultimate goal of the free market economy needs to be social justice. And the right to food is fundamental to social justice.

Obviously, there are many things at Danone that we are not doing right yet, that we don't know yet how to do better. I am fully aware that we are not perfect, and we will never be. But our intention, my commitment, is nevertheless unequivocal.

Our pledge to become a B Corp, announced to our shareholders in April, is consistent with this vision. In the U.S., our Happy Family baby food company is already a B Corp. And we have just put our portfolio of brands - Dannon, Oikos, Silk, Horizon Organic, International Delight, Wallaby, and many others ($6bn of sales in total) — into DanoneWave, a new company we have incorporated as a Public Benefit Corporation, the largest in the world. A Public Benefit Corporation is managed in a way that balances shareholders’ financial interests and the benefits it brings to people, the planet and broader society. We are not perfect, but the movement has started already, and we are ready to drive it further.

Starting with taking care of our people: Since a decade, we have designed a unique global health insurance program, benefiting 70,000 employees in 25 developing countries. We aim for Dan’Cares to cover our 100,000+ people, and possibly more. We also launched a unique, gender-neutral Parental Policy earlier this year.

We are wholeheartedly convinced of how critical the first 1,000 days of life are. We have therefore pledged to fully empower all women in their choice of nutrition and to support breastfeeding. That has changed the way we operate Aptamil, Nutrilon and all our local brands. And we have pledged to make our breastmilk substitutes available to low-income families in a not-for-profit model.

We know such models can exist because a decade ago, we invented social innovation platforms to make "One planet. One health" a reality, starting with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Danone Communities’ "social business" to bring access to water and nutrition. Our Danone Ecosystem Fund builds skills, social and economic opportunities for people in our food and water ecosystems, from farmers to street vendors and landfill scavengers in 70 countries. Livelihoods, a CO2 credits-powered investment platform, supports farmers to plant trees, helping them to create a sustainable living and connecting them on global supply chains. We already work with partners on these platforms, but they could be grown much further at scale.

Becoming carbon neutral on our entire food cycle

We will need this because we committed to be fully carbon neutral as a company, on our entire food cycle, including our ecosystem of hundreds of thousands of family farmers. We’ve already achieved it with our Provamel brand, with a next milestone target for evian water by 2020.

In our objective to offer healthier and more natural choices, we still have a lot of work to do on product recipes and formulation. A few months ago, we made our new roadmap clear. One of the milestones has been our pledge last year to bring more natural biodiversity and food choices. In a few weeks’ time, all production of smoothies for our U.S. kids’ brand Danimals — representing the vast majority of the brand’s volume – will be non-GMO.

All of this is only the start. We will continue the journey to scale further what we do within Danone's reach, with the help of many partners.

Consumers seeking alternatives

But why does it matter?

Because in many countries consumers are shifting away from conventional food and retail and are exploring alternatives. This is putting pressure on the short-term performance reported by the large food and retail companies. Short-termism is a risk higher than ever, whilst what is at stake is the balance of efficiency and sustainability across time horizons. Should we surrender on the transformation to address the revolution and just focus on extracting capital out of our businesses, making a few even richer and a darker future for many?

Last week in Berlin, the Consumer Goods Forum Summit gathered around "global learnings from local successes." Rightly so, as local food brands keep gaining share against global brands every year. People believe local is a way to reclaim their right to food: This is the lesson to be learned. Because in France, our government is bringing together, next month, a critical nationwide, multiparty conference on Alimentation, a word we use at Danone to describe food sovereignty, and which encompasses cultural relevance, transparency and fairness.

So, now is the time when those who dare to believe that food sovereignty should be the goal of this industry — like Danone and many others — should start to more broadly support and be catalysts of change for people to reconnect with their food. Because food is a human right.

Another world is possible. I believe that every day, each time we eat and drink, we can vote for the world we want to live in.

And as CEOs, as leaders, we have the responsibility to adjust the way our companies operate, the way our brands interact with their communities. This is full of risks and opportunities. Our business models, our organizations could be — will be — disrupted. This is the only way out, off the limits: Set food free.

More than us, our people are the ones at the forefront of the fight to reclaim food. They are the ones who can build the bridges to the future, with our consumers.

All together, we can be collectively remembered as the generation that harnessed its accumulated experience, its access to disruptive technology, its collective intelligence to create true, lasting food sovereignty for our world.

All together — those of us who can afford to vote when they eat, inclusive of those of us who cannot yet because they are deprived their full right to food. My food matters to yours. Yours to mine. “One Planet. One Health.”

Together, our entire generation can be known as the Food Generation.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn on June 22, 2017.


Emmanuel Faber is the CEO and Vice Chairman of Danone. He joined Danone in 1997 as head of Finance, Strategies and Information Systems and in 2000 became Chief Financial Officer and a member of the Executive Committee. In 2005, he… [Read more about Emmanuel Faber]


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