US-based food company produces and markets a wide range of products in more than 100 countries on six continents, from baking products, pizza and pasta to yoghurt, ice cream and even pet food. It is also the largest provider of natural and organic packaged foods in the United States.
This company's Government and Public Affairs Department invested in SIGWATCH approximately seven years ago. It recognizes that NGOs are a trusted source and that their campaigns reveal the issues that could affect the business today and in the future.
SOLUTION AT A GLANCE
SIGWATCH acts as an internal issues management tool. It gives Government and Public Affairs visibility of the issues that the company could be criticized or held responsible for in the future – whether on climate change, food safety, nutrition or human rights – enabling it to plan ahead and remain ahead of stakeholder expectations.
A senior manager explains, “Much of our work involves taking that outside lens and working out the company’s position so that we can articulate how it relates to us and what we’re doing about it. At the very least we need to understand the issues and be prepared in case we’re challenged on them.
SOLUTION IN ACTION
They say they use SIGWATCH NGO data on a regular basis; SIGWATCH’s daily alerts provide an insight into what is happening across the food value chain, from the farm gate to the grocery store. If an issue stands out, the relevant manager will flag it up to cross-functional teams.
They also share the highlights from SIGWATCH’s monthly and quarterly trends reports internally via the company’s issues management website. And annually, she reviews the praise and criticism the firm has received from NGOs and presents the findings to the business leadership team. This allows them to see how activist groups have responded to the organization’s commitments and announcements.
SIGWATCH is also consulted for work in the company’s Corporate Human Rights Integration team. When there is a new business opportunity or a change in ingredients sourcing, SIGWATCH helps identify and demonstrate the human rights implications.
“It may be cheaper and better for the business to source from a certain location, but it can come along with a great deal of risk,” they say.
“With SIGWATCH, I can see and present a graph showing exactly how long NGOs have been campaigning on this particular commodity and geography.”
Ultimately, SIGWATCH supports Government and Public Affairs’ objective to bring an outside perspective into the organization, highlighting the areas of external concern and criticism related to the firm and the wider industry. The fact that SIGWATCH collects and links to actual NGO actions in its reports, they add, is particularly helpful. “It’s easy to think of an animal welfare demand in business terms but if you’re going to negotiate and compromise, it’s important to understand what the campaigning group’s beliefs are and what they’re going to be open to. “It’s helpful to see how NGOs are framing issues in their own words. It enables us to bring a much greater level of understanding and analysis to the problems internally.”
As well as highlighting the trends affecting its own business, SIGWATCH helps the food company understand the challenges its value chain may be facing. “We can look at key suppliers or partners across the value chain – retailers, agriculture, food manufacturing – to see the problems they are experiencing. If something interesting comes up, in terms of pressure on retailers, for example, then I might share it with sales colleagues for their awareness.”
A look at the future
Crucially, SIGWATCH acts as an early warning system, alerting it to issues it may need to address further down the line.
“There are some issues that move from one sector to another. They start with foodservice or retail and they move towards fastserve restaurants and then CPG. So, when we can see companies upstream starting to make commitments or talking about an issue, we can figure out what’s likely coming our way in a few months or even years.”
And it is this forward-looking SIGWATCH capability that the company intends to leverage even more in the future as it strives to stay one step ahead of its stakeholder expectations.