Kerry Group criticised for poor human rights disclosure

Irish food giant among worst global brands for addressing human rights issues

Irish food giant Kerry has been rapped on the knuckles for failing to identify and address human rights issues across its supply chains.

The company was ranked among the worst performing global brands at ensuring its production processes respect and protect the rights of workers by the latest Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB).

The benchmark measures how companies perform across 100 indicators based on the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights. It uses publicly available information on issues such as forced labour, protecting human rights activists and the living wage to give companies a maximum possible score of 100 per cent.

Kerry, the only Irish company included in this year’s benchmark, scored just 18.4 out of 100, putting it near the bottom of a 200-strong league table of well-known companies.

The company, a world leader in the food ingredients sector, scored particularly poorly – just 1.7 out of 10 – in the transparency category which assesses if companies are identifying and addressing human rights risks in their business and supply chains.

It was also found wanting in the governance and policies category and when it came to “embedding respect and human rights due diligence” in its processes.

A spokesperson for the company was not available for comment.

Missed opportunity

The finding caps off a difficult week for Kerry after it emerged on Monday it had narrowly missed out on the opportunity to buy the nutrition business of US chemicals group DuPont. The €23.5 billion deal would have seen Kerry double in size.

The human rights benchmark has been attempting to tap into the competitive nature of markets to drive better performance on human rights. It comprises investors and civil society organisations dedicated to creating a public benchmark of corporate human rights performance and is backed by investors with over $5.3 trillion in assets.

Many of the world's biggest listed companies including Amazon, LVMH, Qualcomm and Circle K parent Alimentation Couche-Tard were also found not to be transparent in how they identify and address human rights issues.

Starbucks was another global brand found to have performed badly across sevreal categories but it disputed the assessment, claiming it has "zero tolerance for human rights abuses".

Norway's $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said it was selling shares in security firm G4S over its alleged human rights violations in the Middle East. G4S said it had made "progress on our action plan to reinforce high standards in employment recruitment and welfare in the Middle East".

This year’s benchmark reported that a number of companies had passed shareholder resolutions tying management teams into reporting how they identify human rights risks.

Top performers in 2019 included Adidas, Rio Tinto and Unilever but one in five companies included since 2017 has failed to significantly improve, the report said.