Responsible Food and Beverage Procurement: A Path Forward for Higher Educational Institutions

Issues Fair Compensation Forced Labor Freedom of Association & Collective Bargaining Health Safety & Environment

This paper addresses sustainable food procurement at universities, focusing specifically on social issues such as labor conditions for workers, an issue that universities are increasingly interested in addressing. It builds upon The Ohio State University project with FLA to explore labor conditions in it supply chain and ways to improve its procurement practices.

The project ran from 2018 to 2022.

Key findings in the report include:

  1. University buyers must work beyond their direct relationships and reach out to upstream suppliers. The project showed that it is not easy to obtain full supply chain traceability. While universities can develop direct and close relationships with some suppliers, it will take more work to reach all suppliers. If efforts are limited only to direct suppliers, universities will not be able to address their full food supply chains. Universities must establish and require a set of standards to be passed down in the supply chain for food procurement to become more socially sustainable beyond the few direct suppliers.
  2. Pressure on universities to improve their social sustainability in food procurement is growing. The advocacy of students and labor rights organizations are increasing the demand for fair labor practices for foods and ingredients sold on university campuses. The Fair Food Program has campaigned against the major food retailers on campuses and motivated university students to join in these campaigns. There is growing pressure on university administrators to respond to criticisms of food procurement policies and address the labor risks in the school’s food supply chain.
  3. University procurement practices must change so supplier behavior can change. The following issues were identified as potential areas of improvement to university food procurement practices:
    • Universities may not have a unified approach to food procurement, resulting in inconsistent procurement requirements and practices on campus.
    • There is a lack of specific requirements or standards for the food and beverage suppliers, both conceptually and contractually.
    • Internal staff knowledge and capacity to convey the standards or requirements are weak and/or inconsistent, even if they exist.
    • The lack of universities’ internal capacity and requirements lead to insufficient information provided to suppliers to act, including to improve transparency.
    • Even when procurement standards exist, the university may not effectively assess a supplier’s labor risks and instead rank suppliers based on price, quality, or other specifications.