This is the second year running that Solae has been awarded a place on the Ethisphere Institute’s WME companies list and it is the only food ingredients company, although three food manufacturers were also recognized this year – General Mills, PepsiCo and Stonyfield Farm. The Ethisphere Institute is a research organization and think tank focused on best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability, which has been releasing an annual ethical companies list since 2007.
Cornel Fuerer, vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer of Solae, told FoodNavigator-USA that Solae has built a compliance program over the past three years, which involves maintaining ethical practices internally, as well as in its relationships with vendors and customers.
“Everyone wants to ensure that their supply chain is ethical because ethical means reliable. It gives us the ability to differentiate ourselves from the competition and gains us respect from the authorities...We see this as having a positive effect on the bottom line,” Fuerer said.
The company is also a member of the Round Table on Responsible Soy, which has the stated aim of promoting environmental, social and economical sustainability in soy production.
Fuerer said: “We are not purchasing Brazilian soybeans for example just off the shelf. Most of the beans we are buying there are IP [identity preserved] non-GM beans.”
IP non-genetically modified (GM) soybeans must conform to a maximum 0.9 percent residual GM material, and Fuerer said that the company’s sourcing of soy that meets this standard does present regulatory challenges.
“We are very careful about how we work with our suppliers,” he said. “We try to minimize or eliminate cross-contamination…We have become even more focused on where our beans are planted.”
Fuerer said that Solae’s current strong focus on ethical business practices was sparked by a very large turnover in management more than three years ago.
“We were caught sleeping at the wheel at the end of 2007 and had to increase prices,” Fuerer said. “We had to go back to core values.”
The company lists those core values as safety and health; highest ethical behavior; respect for people; and environmental stewardship.
Commenting on Solae’s inclusion in the WME companies list, executive director of the Ethisphere Institute, Alex Brigham said: “Solae recognizes the important role that principled practices play in brand reputation, which ultimately is the most valuable asset for a company.”
Fuerer added that he would not be surprised to see another ingredients company on the list in the years to come.
“I think we had a head start,” he said. “There’s nothing magic – it’s just hard work and something we wanted to work on.”