There are very few places where we can talk to each other so freely

You wouldn’t normally share your experiences with a competitor, but the agri-sector businesses that participated in the Round Table on Sustainability, recently organised for clients of Agri Commodities Clients, are an exception. Guy Hogge, Global Head of Sustainability at Louis Dreyfus Company, and Lies Dieben, CSR Officer at Nidera, look back on this event. ‘You don’t dictate how we should do things.’

ABN AMRO’s Energy, Commodities & Transportation Clients business organised a round table discussion with clients in the agri commodities sector. The goal of this session was twofold: on the one hand, ABN AMRO wanted to present its revised sustainability policy and get feedback on it. On the other hand, it gave ABN AMRO’s clients the opportunity to engage in an interactive discussion on social issues in the value chain. The organisers divided up the participants into groups and asked them to identify the social issues at play in specific value chains. The themes addressed were child labour, discrimination and human rights.

What insights did you gain during the Round Table on Sustainability?

Guy Hogge: ‘Human rights is a hot issue in our sector. It’s often hard to get accurate information on whether human rights are respected in the value chain, especially in those parts of the chain to which we do not have direct access. So I thought it would be useful to hear other companies’ experiences. There are very few places where we can talk to each other so freely.’

Lies Dieben: ‘I was already aware that companies in our sector are contending with the same problems, but this session confirmed that feeling. We could work together much more. Sustainability departments see the added value of collaboration, but the businesses are still much more hesitant. So we first need to remove these internal obstacles.’

ABN AMRO has revised its sustainability policy for Agri Commodities Clients. What do you think about how ABN AMRO has shared this with clients?

Hogge: ‘ABN AMRO does this differently from other banks. We usually talk to banks about our approach to CSR. I think it’s great that ABN AMRO is taking charge and being clear about what it expects from us. We can pass this on to our commercial people. It’s also nice to know that we have the same ideas about CSR.’

Dieben: ‘I like this approach. You don’t dictate how we should do things, but you do ask our opinion. The bank really listens to its stakeholders.’

What insights did you share with the other participants?

Hogge: ‘I hope I managed to convey that we shouldn’t all be reinventing the wheel. There are so many institutions that together have so much more knowledge and resources than any individual company does. Let’s make the most of that. As an individual company, it’s very hard to bring about change – we need each other.’

Dieben: ‘I hope I got across how important it is to be proactive when it comes to sustainability. At our company this took off after a crisis, and that’s no good – you’re starting from a defensive position. The main benefit, on the other hand, was that management was very willing to take action.’

What are the benefits of collaboration?

Hogge: ’It’s extremely useful to brainstorm together using our wealth of expertise. Collaboration allows us to benefit fully from each other’s insights and experiences. Take the subject of human rights: we all agree that they should be respected, but it’s hard to prove that you are working to safeguard human rights in the value chain.’

Dieben: ‘Collaboration can be very useful, if companies are open to it. In our sector, transparency is still in its infancy. It’s still very much “every man for himself”. One place this is evident is in the soy industry, in which we do a lot of trading. There’s been a proliferation of certification schemes here. This is counterproductive, if only because it confuses things. It would be better to have one standard that is acceptable to all. It’s great that ABN AMRO, a major financer, is pushing sustainability.’

Lies Dieben is CSR Officer at Nidera, a leading agricultural trading company that trades in and processes coffee, cotton and dairy products. Nidera employs 3,500 people in more than 20 countries.
Guy Hogge is Global Head of Sustainability at Louis Dreyfus Company, a leadingmerchant and processor of agricultural goods globally. The company employs more than 22,000 people and operates in more than 100 countries.