This article features otherwise unpublished food safety management data held by BRCGS and Safefood 360° which, combined with real-time events, provides an unparalleled view of current and emerging issues and trends in the food safety industry.

Ethical trade is a way of working that protects fundamental human rights of everyone in the global production and supply of products and services. Here we focus on ethical trade, how it relates to global initiatives such as the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals and how to go about delivering it within your supply chains. 


What are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) were adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015 under the resolution “Transforming our world; the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The agenda was developed to provide a plan for people, planet and prosperity with the additional aim of strengthening universal peace. There are 17 goals that encompass, amongst other things, poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. There is a useful short video that serves as a basic introduction for those not familiar with the SDGs.   



The UN Secretary General reports on the progress of the SDGs each year with the latest being the SDG Progress Report 2024. In addition, an independent group of scientists appointed by the UN Secretary General publishes a progress report every four years (Global Sustainable Development Report 2023). For those interested in delving into the detail of the indicators and statistical data on progress of the SDGs, there is a specific website dedicated to providing this information.


The Goals, Ethical and Responsible Sourcing

Over half of the goals have some element that relates to ethical and responsible sourcing but the key one is SDG 8 “Decent Work and Economic Growth”.

This SDG has the specific aim to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. This SDG, together with others that impact ethical and sustainable sourcing, align strongly with the mission of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Established in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles and now part of the UN, the ILO’s mission is to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues. The needs of the grocery sector are reflected in the Base Code of the Ethical Trading Initiative. Formed by a group of companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations in 1989 to align with the ILO’s international labour standards, the Initiative specifically protects the rights of workers in global grocery, food, fashion and aligned supply chains.


United Nations Global Compact

The UN Global Compact was established in 2005 in recognition of the critical role that businesses play in delivering ethical and sustainable sourcing in its broadest sense. It now represents the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative with the main purpose to encourage companies to “align their strategies and operations with universal principles of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption and to take action to advance societal goals”. With over 25,000 participants from 167 countries, it has ten principles that sit under four universal principles – human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.


Delivery of Ethical Trading and Responsible Sourcing Goals

The delivery of business goals relating to ethical and social commitments requires a systematic approach that includes policy development, implementation through the supply chain and compliance monitoring. In addition, the complexities and scale of global supply chains necessitates a degree of risk assessment to support a prioritised approach.

This is most commonly achieved through a specific on-site ethical or social audit to review compliance to an industry standard. A number of schemes exist where a site audit can result in formal certification to an ethical or social compliance standard with the BRCGS Global Standard Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing (ETRS) being an example. This was the first ethical standard to achieve recognition to the Social Compliance Benchmark by the Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI) of the Consumer Good Forum (CGF).

A good starting point is a self-assessment conducted by sites within a businesses’ supply chain together with other indicators such as country specific factors. This risk assessment then determines the need for a specific on-site ethical audit to review compliance to an industry standard or a businesses’ own ethical standard.

To assist businesses aiming for certification, BRCGS has recently launched the Ethical Appraisal Tool. The tool provides a framework to evaluate a businesses’ ethical operations and management practices, encompassing ethical practices, sustainability and social compliance. The questions in the tool align with many of the principles in the United Nations (UN) Global Compact and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Schemes including Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance also incorporate ethical trade into their certification audit, whilst others such as the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX) deliver non-certificated audits to the Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA) standard, which is designed to drive continuous improvement rather than certification.

One of the challenges with multiple audits that individual sites encounter is integrating the core requirements and associated in-house monitoring and compliance processes into their own quality management system. A number of IT platforms now exist that can support multiple standards and simplify their management and a good example is Safefood 360°.

Trading ethically and responsibly are very much non-negotiable principles that customers expect from their grocery stores and associated brands and this is also increasingly reflected in legislative norms. Indeed, the European Parliament recently approved a new regulation that will allow the EU to prohibit the sale, import and export of goods made using forced labour. It is reported that “Manufacturers of banned goods will have to withdraw their products from the EU single market and donate, recycle or destroy them. Non-compliant companies could be fined. The goods may be allowed back on the EU single market once the company eliminates forced labour from its supply chains”.

I hope this short overview of ethical and responsible sourcing has provided some insight and links to help you in your management of this key area in good business governance.




Alec Kyriakides

BRCGS International Advisory Board Chair

Independent Food Safety Consultant


If you are certificated to one of four BRCGS standards (Agents & Brokers, Food Safety, Packaging Materials or Storage & Distribution) you can find the Ethical Appraisal Tool on Participate (register here if you do not have access). Alternatively, the Appraisal Tool is available the on the BRCGS Store