In a strategic move towards enhancing ethical labor practices in the fresh produce industry, the Ethical Charter Implementation Program (ECIP) was officially launched in early November. Six major buyers, including Costco Wholesale, Kroger, McDonald’s USA, Sam’s Club, Target, and Walmart, have joined forces in this initiative, inviting over 100 suppliers to utilize the ECIP platform to fortify their farm labor management systems.
LeAnne R. Ruzzamenti, spokesperson for ECIP, highlighted the significance of this collaborative effort: “The Ethical Charter Implementation Program (ECIP) is a pioneering step towards recognizing and strengthening engagement around labor practices in the fresh produce industry without subjecting stakeholders to additional audits.”
The ECIP LAB online platform offers a comprehensive approach to engagement with three distinct channels. In the “learn” channel, growers delve into the management systems required to implement each principle of the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices. The “assess” channel allows growers to rank their own management systems confidentially, ensuring honest assessments that are not visible to customers. Lastly, the “benchmark” channel enables growers to track progress over time as they prioritize and address opportunities for improvement.
Laura Himes, Vice President of Global Sourcing for Walmart, expressed enthusiasm about the program’s potential to scale across the produce value chain: “What we like about ECIP is that it focuses on continuous improvement while offering many tools and resources for growers to assess their management structures, benchmark their progress and continue to improve over time.”
Suppliers who actively participated in the program’s development and testing lauded the value of ECIP in creating better alignment with the Ethical Charter through capacity building rather than compliance programs and additional audits. Wyatt Maysey, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms, stated, “Our hope is that the industry embraces this program as it is an opportunity to help reduce the audit burden already felt by growers.”
Peter O’Driscoll, Executive Director of Equitable Food Initiative, emphasized the commitment to multistakeholder collaboration, saying, “ECIP will be a valuable resource for employers who want to build better workplaces.”
The ECIP LAB platform underwent a beta test with a small group of suppliers and growers before the official launch, incorporating valuable feedback to strengthen its functionality.
The program operates on an annual subscription fee model, with buyers paying $25,000 per year, suppliers contributing between $1,800 and $9,000 based on annual sales, and growers paying $200 per year. Founding buyers, in addition to their subscription fees, committed an extra $100,000 each for the platform’s development.
ECIP will generate a single engagement profile for each grower and supplier, allowing them to share it with as many customers as they choose. Additional information about the program can be found at ethicalcharterprogram.org.
In 2018, industry groups introduced the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices as a common framework for accountability and transparency in the global produce and floral supply chains. The ECIP initiative emerged in 2020, focusing on capacity building rather than compliance testing, following a successful pilot program in 2021. The Walmart Foundation’s $2 million grant in 2022 played a crucial role in launching and scaling ECIP as a self-assessment tool to strengthen labor management systems at the field level.
About EFI: Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) is a capacity-building and certification nonprofit aimed at improving the lives of farmworkers and enhancing business performance throughout the supply chain. As a multistakeholder organization, EFI collaborates with growers, farmworkers, retailers, and consumers to create programs that support continuous improvement and address pressing industry issues. For more information, visit equitablefood.org.
About ECIP: The Ethical Charter Implementation Program (ECIP) is a collaborative effort among retailers, grower-shippers, and implementing organizations to recognize and strengthen engagement around labor practices in the fresh produce industry. Focused on self-assessment to avoid the burden of additional audits, ECIP utilizes an assessment tool and capacity-building resources to measure and strengthen alignment with the principles of the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices. More information can be found at ethicalcharterprogram.org.