This interview is part of a deep-dive series from WBCSD’s Global Agribusiness Action on Equitable Livelihoods Project (GAA-EL) featuring perspectives from human rights experts in the NGO sector, government, WBCSD member companies, and more. The series aims to raise awareness about the challenges, opportunities and lessons learned across the sector. The GAA-EL project works with its members to improve human rights performance within agriculture supply chains, with for example the publication of an introductory toolkit, and the release of a train-the-trainer pack for internal company implementation.
WBCSD: What is your current role and experience working on human rights policy and practice with Godrej Group?
Divecha: I’m Gayatri Divecha, I head Sustainability and Social Impact for Godrej Group We’re a diversified conglomerate, with interests in agriculture, consumer products, real estate, chemicals, and housing finance. Our commitment to Sustainability and Social Impact is called Good & Green, and our vision is to create a greener, inclusive and equitable world for 20 million people in our extended communities. Good & Green is a corporate function that drives sustainability and social impact for all six Group companies (Godrej Industries Limited, Godrej Consumer Products Limited, Godrej Agrovet Limited, Godrej Properties Limited, Godrej Fund Management, and Godrej Housing Finance). We work closely with businesses and functions to improve our environmental and social performance through policies, programs, and disclosure, this includes human rights.
WBCSD: How does Godrej Group approach human rights policy across its value chains, including Godrej Agrovet?
Divecha: Our Group is 124 years old, and we realize that human rights can’t just live within people’s understandings, especially as we are multi-national in addition to being spread across India. Every year there are new generations of Godrejites and our businesses are expanding and growing. We needed to codify our human rights policy into a standard that is understandable by all. Therefore a couple of years ago we framed a human rights policy that applies to all of our Group companies, laying out what we mean by human rights within our company. It says that we intend on doing no harm, and when harm is done to people based on caste, forced labor, gender, etc., we have a zero-tolerance policy. Any transgression of these standards that are laid out in the policy will result in severe disciplinary action, including termination from employment and so on.
WBCSD: How did you communicate this streamlined policy to employees and train staff appropriately?
Divecha: We made it very clear to all teams what we expected when we rolled out the policy, and the respective businesses’ HR teams are custodians of this policy. When we first formulated the policies, they were widely cascaded through companies and disseminated across the human resources teams within our various zones and individual companies. In addition, we communicated that our suppliers must uphold these principles as well. Currently, new employees learn about the policy as a part of their onboarding procedures.
WBCSD: Developing and launching a human rights policy is just one part of the challenge. How do you go about implementing it?
Divecha: We align with local labor laws in all countries in which we work, so for the AgroVet company, this is in India. Forced farm labor is one of the most significant human rights issues in the agriculture sector in India, for example, so this is one aspect that we look into more intentionally there. Our internal audit team tracks and manages instances of human rights abuse, and there is a redress mechanism in place. If there are any instances of our policy not being heeded, it is flagged up through the management structure and to the Board.
In addition to audit and management procedures, Godrej invests in reducing the risk of human rights abuses through its community-based livelihoods programs. In Nashik, India, at the MaxiMilk facility, for example, Godrej has built market linkages for farmers in their communities producing corn and wheat and has hired extension officers to train farmers on good agricultural practices and provide quality inputs. This boosts incomes and in turn prevents issues such as child labor at the farm-level.
During the pandemic, our company purchased and offered COVID-19 vaccinations for all our employees and their communities, to ensure they were able to work in a healthy and safe environment.
Programs like these help to cultivate a relationship of trust between the company and its farmers and open lines of communication such that if there is something amiss, a farmer is more likely to feel comfortable reporting it.
WBCSD: What are some of the challenges of implementing Godrej Group’s human rights policy?
Divecha: When it comes to auditing and addressing human rights issues across our supplier base, it becomes a bit more challenging for the Agrovet company. Our large suppliers and vendors go through rigorous due diligence and assessments in which all these human rights policies and practices are checked. Could we have a more detailed approach to assessing suppliers? Absolutely. Could we go a step further and build capacity in this area? Again, absolutely. One of our largest businesses within Agrovet is manufacturing animal feed, and most of the raw materials and inputs required are agricultural commodities like corn and wheat. I am not sure how traceable human rights performance is for these suppliers of these inputs – are we tracing where they are getting their inputs from, such as if their product is aggregated from small farmers? It’s something we definitely want to work on this year. It’s not just about stakeholders appreciating it; it’s because we fundamentally believe it’s the right thing to do, and what’s good for people is also good for business. So, we will be looking at this in the coming months.
About the Global Agribusiness Action on Equitable Livelihoods
The Global Agribusiness Action on Equitable Livelihoods (GAA-EL) project, as a part of WBCSD’s overall leadership on the equity and livelihoods agenda, works with companies across the value chain to generate strong business value as well as social impact through 1) improving access to markets for smallholders and agri-SMEs; 2) strengthening human rights policy and practice; and 3) promoting inclusive innovation and technology.