The profit behind your plate - critical issues in the processed food industry

The profit behind your plate - critical issues in the processed food industry

The food processing industry and sustainable development

This report analyses the contribution that primary and full processing of food can make to poverty reduction and sustainable development within the current international context. First, the report provides insights into the level of production, sales and international trade in processed food. Then, it discusses the structural, market, private and government obstacles to exports and the development of a domestic processed food industry in developing countries.

The report notes that an important current trend affecting the whole processed food sector is that prices for processed food companies, from the top global brands to small food manufacturers, are under serious pressure from supermarket strategies and supply requirements.

The report identifies many problems which are still not sufficiently addressed in order to make food processing beneficial to all stakeholders and to sustainable development. Some of the most problematic issues are:

  • undermining union freedom in countries with bad labour rights
  • lack of equal opportunity and pay
  • increasing numbers of temporary (migrant) workers with fewer social rights
  • the role in the obesity epidemic
  • legal and illegal negative environmental impacts
The infringement of these rights and the negative environmental effects (allegedly) involve the world’s leading food companies, and are not simply problems that are caused by anonymous “bad guys”, “laggards” among the industry population, or only small and medium-sized enterprises. Many leading companies in the fully packaged food industry are however active in individual or joint corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, sometimes being involved in various initiatives at the same time.

The report argues that some large food companies and multinationals, and a select group of supermarket chains have expanded enormously and have captured profit making opportunities in developing countries. Their influence is restructuring developing countries’ agricultural systems and processing industries in such a way that many poor and marginalised groups might remain excluded.
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