S Group has been taking determined steps to improve the responsibility of the private label coffee selection in recent years. Since the beginning of 2017, 90 per cent of coffee is UTZ-certified. The UTZ-certified coffee must meet certain requirements concerning the environment and the work conditions of farmers, and third-party audits are used to monitor how well these requirements are met.
"The importance of responsibility in the production of coffee will increase both in Finland and internationally, and responsibility has improved in leaps and bounds," Senja Forsman, responsibility expert at SOK Retail chain management, says.
Thus, the number of coffee products with a responsibility certification has increased considerably in retail in recent years. The product range of S Group stores includes more than 50 different certified coffee products. Certifications are needed, since coffee production involves significant challenges, such as primitive cultivation practices in coffee-producing countries, inefficient use of land, and misuse of herbicides, which also causes occupational health issues. In addition, in some areas the compensation farmers receive for their crop is poor, and in worst case scenarios, even using forced labour has been detected.
In October 2016, Finnish civic organisation Finnwatch published a report on the social responsibility of coffee sold in Finland. The report praised S Group, together with other Finnish coffee sector operators, for increasing the supply of coffee with responsibility certification. However, the report also points out that the certification systems still have plenty of room for improvement. The coffee sector is still plagued with human rights issues, such as insufficient salaries, child labour, discrimination, and unreasonable recruitment fees.
"Our objective is that all private label coffee in S Group will have responsibility certification or that its supply chain will be verified for responsibility all the way to primary production by the end of 2019," Forsman says.