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Italy: Buoni e Giusti programme by Coop Italia

"We asked our suppliers - 90% of which are cooperatives and POs - to take responsibility. We asked them for commitment and included compulsory checks on their associates in the contracts. We want to be vigilant and make sure our work is legal and ethical."

This was reported by Claudio Mazzini, manager of the Fresh Produce department at Coop Italia, as he commented on the first two years of the "Buoni e Giusti" campaign. The initiative was set up as a response to the recent events in the fresh produce sector. He also added that "rules must be set out in times of peace, not in times of war" as a way to stress that legality is an everyday commitment, not something that must be only done when attention turns towards the sector.

"We can win only if we use all tools available. Despite some procedural inflexibility, a high-quality agricultural network is essential for Coop. But, today, voluntary certifications such as GlobalGAP GRASP can be an additional tools."

The Buoni e Giusti slogan (Nice and Fair) was adopted for products that are not only nice to eat, but fair to producers. "Some segments are more critical because products themselves require a lot of unskilled labour, as the raw material itself has a low value. We can say that our trusted suppliers show no violations - just a few venial sins. We are anyway raising the bar."

According to the Coop Italia manager, a balance between fair prices and fair returns can be achieved. "The fresh produce segment is the one where consumers want to save money. Luckily, there are many products available and it wouldn't make sense to use over 20-30% of them for low prices. Other factors and supply segmentation have become more important especially now that people seem to spend less time trying to save every cent."

"Consumers are a little like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as, while they expect all regulations to be complied with, they at times take advantage of opportunities with unclear sustainability levels." But a lot can be done to optimise costs: "there is a great difference between having local productions, which is not always feasible, and reducing intermediate passages, and I feel the fresh produce chain can obtain significant results in this matter."

The manager says he is pleased with 2017 as, despite the loss of considerable amounts of produce due to spring frost, volumes and prices are rather good. "And Christmas has yet to come!"

Going back to the topic of ethics, the deterrent effect of programmes such as "I Buoni e Giusti Coop" is much needed, because it would be like speeding on a motorway with cruise control.

"We want to avoid unfair behaviour leading to competitive advantages for those violating the rules, we want competition to focus on abilities rather than damaging the weak. Of course, Coop Italia alone cannot solve the issue of exploitation but we are convinced that, were other chains to demand our same requirements from their suppliers, intolerable behaviour would diminish."

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