How we’re fighting for decent working conditions

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Talking about decent working conditions is easy. But how do you go about creating them? Tommy Nykvist, Sustainability Manager of Systembolaget’s Purchasing Department, talks about the new sustainability programme we launched in 2015.

How are you working to promote good working conditions in the supply chain?

“Our agreements with all of our suppliers include Systembolaget’s Code of Conduct, which is based on international agreements, such as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our general purchasing terms and conditions also oblige our suppliers to comply with these requirements with regard to working conditions and human rights.”

In 2015, you launched a new sustainability programme. What will this mean in the way of changes?

“The new sustainability programme gives us a better overall view of our work aimed at promoting decent working conditions. We focus on the areas where we have the greatest impact, that is on all of the products from “at risk” countries in our fixed range. We shine a spotlight on these products, revealing every detail of the process, and check the sustainability maturity of the producer in question. More clearly defined follow-up work also ensures that our suppliers are signed up to our updated Code and also stress the responsibility that our suppliers have for their subcontractors. We are very aware that this is a time-consuming and long-term programme, but we have every hope that our new sustainability programme will result in improvements where they are most needed.”

Saying that suppliers must live up to your strict requirements is one thing. But how do you ensure that they genuinely do?

“We carry out audits with the help of an independent third party – and the new sustainability programme will mean a substantial increase in the number of these audits carried out. We used to base the audits on sales volumes, but under the new programme, they will be based on risk. What this means is that in 2016, we see the need for around 100 audits, which is far more than in previous years.”

What is the biggest challenge you face in promoting decent working conditions?

“Without doubt it’s the complexity of our supply chain. We have 650 active drinks suppliers who, in turn, have numerous subcontractors and partners. This affects traceability and sometimes makes it hard to know where the grapes come from and who picked them.”

Want to see just how complex our supply chain is? Click here!

In the autumn of 2015, the research organisation, Swedwatch, published a report15 in which they said that you had made progress in your sustainability work, but that there were still challenges that needed to be addressed. Can you tell us more about this?

“We welcome this review. The Swedwatch report contains four recommendations for Systembolaget. We were already aware of these areas for improvement and action plans have already been drawn up for several of the points made. In short, 2015, was a transitional year for us. We’d put a great deal of effort into mapping our producers, improving our “at risk” country analyses, and collating electronic acceptances of the new Code and its rules from all of our suppliers. By the beginning of 2016, the transition had been completed and I believe that we will now see far greater effects from all the groundwork we have done.”

Why are reports like this so important?

“It’s important that professional and knowledgeable operators like Swedwatch examine the ways in which Swedish companies work with sustainability issues. Overall, this sort of review strengthens Systembolaget’s activities in and commitment to this area – it confirms that we are on the right track. Swedwatch’s work highlights the challenges that we face within the wine industry, adds to our knowledge and encourages us in our efforts to become even better at what we do in the sustainability field.”

Decent conditions – the Nordic alcohol retail monopolies’ shared goals

Systembolaget has been making progress towards a sustainable supply chain since 2008 in partnership with the Nordic region’s other alcohol retail monopolies. We make annual sustainability trips with our Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic and Faeroese counterparts to our producing countries, where we hold round table discussions and sustainability seminars with producers and other stakeholders. We reach out to trade unions and other local groups to inform workers of their rights and help bring about positive development. This is a long-term programme of work and we are just one operator amongst many, but we know what we want – decent conditions for workers worldwide – and we are working in a structured way with our Nordic neighbours to give our demands teeth. Together, we can raise standards across the entire industry.

Find out about our sustainability trip to Argentina here