A union representing B.C. government employees has called for a shareholder vote at dairy company Saputo Inc. over concerns it is not disclosing enough information about food waste in its manufacturing operations.
The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union filed a proxy resolution with Saputo, asking it for an annual report on the impacts of food waste in its operations. The union owns less than 0.1 per cent of Saputo’s shares in its general and defence funds.
Saputo has opposed the union’s resolution and urged shareholders to vote against it at its annual meeting on Aug. 8, saying it is already working on the issue and developing a plan.
The union’s resolution is believed to be the first of its kind to come to a vote at an annual meeting in Canada, and marks a new salvo in an expanding campaign to highlight the environmental and economic costs of food waste in Canada.
It follows on the heels of an announcement earlier this year that eight major Canadian food producers and retailers – including Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and Kraft Heinz Canada – have joined a pledge to cut food waste by 50 per cent by 2025. Saputo was not part of the group.
Stephanie Smith, president of the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, said the union has filed a variety of shareholder proposals on environmental issues because they are important to her 80,000 members.
“This motion is trying to encourage Saputo to do as other companies have done and make the commitment to reduce their food waste, and also to show some transparency and accountability about it,” Ms. Smith said.
A Canadian study released in January concluded that more than half of the food in this country is wasted, and said producers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and retailers account for 77 per cent of it, while restaurants and institutions are responsible for 9 per cent, and household consumers waste 14 per cent. At the processing and manufacturing level, waste can occur when food is rejected as a result of appearance and grading, or when food such as milk is dumped because of insufficient demand, or when there are errors and inefficiencies in manufacturing or packaging.
Saputo spokeswoman Sandy Vassiadis said the company will launch a pilot project on food waste this year to make sure it can track progress and find solutions that are sustainable and can be applied globally.
“We’ve never been of the opinion to come out and simply report and just say things, or give ourselves targets that are not attainable,” Ms. Vassiadis said. “On the contrary, what we like to do is to really evaluate what can be done and to come back with something that is sustainable.”
Saputo has added information about food waste in a fact sheet to be released at the annual meeting, she said. The fact sheet is prepared annually to provide updates on seven key pillar issues important to the company, including environmental issues.
“It’s not as complete as perhaps a full report would be, but it proves that every year we are getting better at it, and when we do start, we continue,” she said.
Ms. Smith, however, said the company has provided little detailed disclosure to date on food waste specifically, and said an annual report would create more accountability.
The union’s resolution has won the support of Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS), an influential proxy advisory firm that advises large shareholders on voting decisions.
ISS said Saputo has provided few details about “any significant action undertaken to reduce food waste with specific goals,” and said disclosure of targets and annual progress on food waste has become “very crucial.”
The B.C. union developed its proposal with the help of advocacy group SumOfUs, which develops campaigns to urge companies to change practices on human rights and environmental issues. Senior campaigner Amelia Meister said Saputo was targeted because it appears to lag its industry peers on food waste.
“Many of their competitors have signed on to the 50-per-cent reduction by 2025 and are publicly involved in the issue and showing they are taking steps to address food waste,” Ms. Meister said.
The shareholder resolution is unlikely to receive majority support because members of the Saputo family own at least 43 per cent of the company’s shares, and the company is not supporting the proposal.
Ms. Smith said the goal, however, is to draw attention to the topic and urge change.
“Companies that show strong leadership on values-based issues, people like those brands," she said. "So it matters.”