Why booming sanitiser sales should raise a sourcing red flag

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
18 September 2020

The massive rise in hand sanitiser sales that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic is likely to worsen human rights in the product’s supply chain, a report warns.

In the report Verisk Maplecroft said the main ingredient in alcohol-based hand sanitiser was ethanol, which is distilled from sugarcane, which in turn is linked to child labour and modern slavery in countries such as Brazil, India, Mexico and Thailand.

The report said rising demand for sanitiser would “likely come at the expense of human rights and raises the spectre of violations entering corporate supply chains”.

The US alone registered a 470% year-on-year rise in sales of hand sanitiser in March 2020 and initial forecasts put the value of the market at more than $8bn by the end of 2025, said the report.

Strict travel restrictions mean manufacturers will “find it increasingly difficult to maintain adequate control of standards in their sugarcane supply chains”.

“Audits of raw material suppliers have proved impossible for Western brands,” said the report.

“As a result, workers in producing countries are likely to see labour rights worsen as the sugarcane business booms, driven, ironically, by the need to safeguard the health of people across the globe.”

Brazil, the world’s largest sugarcane producer, is assessed by Verisk Maplecroft as “extreme risk” for forced labour and should “raise the biggest red flag for procurement departments”.

Child labour is also “rife” in the harvesting of sugarcane in India and Mexico, said the report.

Meanwhile, five of the nine major producers of sugarcane – Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Thailand – are rated as “extreme risk” for deforestation, with president Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil posing the highest risk.

“The rise in ethanol production to contain Covid-19 will, therefore, put some of the world’s most vulnerable workforces and ecosystems at increased risk of abuse,” said the report.

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