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General Mills Releases First Public Policy Statement On Human Rights

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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General Mills announced its human rights policy earlier this month. Although the policy does not contain anything new, it is the first time the company has released a public policy statement on the topic. Or as Catherine Gunsbury, director of sustainability and transparency for General Mills, told TriplePundit: It is a “public-facing statement” of the company’s beliefs regarding human rights.

Why does a company need a human rights policy? Gunsbury explained that in “today’s world we are hyper-digitalized and extremely global.” There is an increase in access to information, including for business. That makes a company vulnerable to risks, Gunsbury pointed out, but it also gives it the “opportunity to be a positive partner."

In its public human rights policy, General Mills aims to do several things:


  • Codify existing policies, programs and approaches

  • Bring together much of what it is already doing

  • Create a common narrative and thinking about human rights

There are six different sections to the human rights policy, and the beginning is a statement of human rights. This establishes that General Mills is a “company in a much broader society, and we wanted to set a very broad framework,” Gunsbury said. The policy discusses what the role of business is in human rights and, specifically, what General Mills sees as its purpose. As the policy states, the company works “within a large, diverse value chain of business partners and stakeholders.” What it expects is for them to “adhere to ethical business conduct consistent with our own."

What is the significance of General Mills' announcement given that there is nothing new in the human rights policy? According to Gunsbury, there are several reasons why it is significant -- first being that the company has never made a public statement on human rights. "There is a real opportunity for us as a company to say something,” she told us. “Business is seen as both part of the problem and part of the solution."

The public policy statement is a step toward greater transparency. It opens up the conversation about what General Mills believes and is doing regarding human rights. And it is also an opportunity to take different actions and engagements that are already underway and package them into one document that serves to express the company's beliefs and approach.

Over a year ago, General Mills made a commitment to sustainably source 100 percent of its top 10 ingredients by 2020, calling it the 10 by 2020 Commitment. One of those ingredients is vanilla, sourced from Madagascar. As of last year, the company sourced 45 percent of its vanilla sustainably. One of the focuses in making its vanilla supply chain more sustainable is helping smallholder farmers who tend to struggle to make a stable livelihood. “One of the things we look at in trying to strengthen that supply chain is strengthening their capacity for a sustainable livelihood, ensuring that they are able to command the highest price possible for their crops, which translates into economic value for them and improves their lives,” Gunsbury said.

Image credit: Flickr/urza

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman