Social Dialogue and CSR in the Sugar Sector

The EU Beet Sugar Sustainability Partnership (EU BSSP)

‘Making the sugar world a better place’ – The EU Sugar Industry CSR Report 2015 is now available (March 2016)

EU Beet Sugar Sustainability Partnership

EU Sugar Sector Socio-demographic Analysis


Brussels, 2 March 2016

At yesterday’s annual meeting between trade unions and employers in the EU sugar sector, hosted by the European Commission in the framework of its social dialogue policy, the social partners expressed deep worries about risks and economic uncertainties ahead of the end of the quota system in 2017 and the absence of fair competition and a level playing field for their industry.

The renewed CAP policy for beet sugar means that from next year the EU will have one of the most liberal sugar markets in the world. Meanwhile, other major sugar-exporting countries, such as Brazil, India and Thailand, are maintaining and even increasing measures to protect and subsidise their cane and sugar industries.

Not only are such policies making producers in these countries artificially competitive, they are also fostering over-production that is dumped onto the world market at prices below the average costs of production. This dumping depresses world market prices and is aggravating excessive volatility on the world sugar market.

The EU white sugar price is moving closer to the world market price and is expected to track it in the coming years. A depressed and volatile world sugar market could therefore have serious consequences for employment in the beet sugar sector. As EU prices threaten to sink below local production costs, with potential serious negative consequences for the concerned workers and for their continued participation in work, the EU institutions and operators need to anticipate and organise socially acceptable responses.

The EU beet sugar sector is one of the most competitive in the world. Over the past 25 years, the industry has managed to consistently reduce production costs relative to inflation. However, without a level playing field our industry is left at the mercy of the unaccountable and trade-distorting policies of the major sugar producers.

One of the European Union’s key goals is to strive towards “the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment …” (Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union).  Work is undeniably a fundamental activity in achieving that goal and shaping societal progress.

The social partners of the sugar sector therefore call on the EU to push for a global agreement, involving all key players in the world sugar market, to end all subsidies and other trade-distorting policies affecting sugar. In that way, the EU will support a level playing field for the EU’s highly efficient sugar sector, with high-quality manufacturing jobs and which is respectful of the environment.

About the social partners and social dialogue in the EU sugar sector:

The EU sugar sector is one of the few food industries in Europe and the world to have developed a compulsory Code of Conduct on corporate social responsibility (CSR) matters. At their annual meeting on 1 March 2016, the social partners adopted their 13th annual CSR implementation report, which derives from the Code of Conduct signed by labour unions and sugar companies in 2003. The report, along with further information about social dialogue and good social practices, can be found on the following websites:

Press contacts: Estelle Brentnall (EFFAT, +32 2 209 62 69, and Oscar Ruiz (CEFS, +32 2 774 51 07,

Formed in 2013 as a coalition between EU beet growers (represented by CIBE), sugar producers (CEFS) and trade unions in the food and agriculture sectors (EFFAT), the Partnership exists to demonstrate sustainability throughout the beet sugar industry in the region.



In line with the Europe 2020 strategy for a ‘smarter, more sustainable and more inclusive growth’ for the EU, the partnership agreement aims to highlight and facilitate further the dissemination good agricultural, industrial, social and environmental practices in the sector, while taking into account the relevant elements of economic sustainability providing stable and reliable beet sugar production in the EU.

The partners are working together, engaging in a constructive dialogue and exchange with third parties, while managing the overall process so as to deliver meaningful results for the sector.

The partners have developed a range of documents and materials to meet your specific needs and interests.

The Good Practices capture a wide variety of sustainability techniques, tools and practices used by the sector, underpinned by a commitment to technical environmental excellence and social dialogue.

The Good Practices represent an opportunity to share and develop our performance across the sector and the region. They provide a platform to make our practices and commitments clear for our stakeholders. And they serve as the basis for strong and transparent engagement with markets and policy makers going forward.

(Click in the image to download the report)

cover CSR 2015

The EU Beet Sugar Sustainability Partnership (EU BSSP) has announced the launch of its first joint initiative on sustainability throughout the sector.


Click on the picture to download the Press Release:





Prepared jointly by EFFAT (trade unions representing employees) and CEFS (representing employers), the EU Sugar industry CSR report 2014 is now available. To access the full pdf report click here.

End of 2013, European beet growers (CIBE), sugar producers (CEFS) and trade unions of the food and agriculture sector (EFFAT) formalised a landmark agreement to jointly highlight and report on representative Good Practices of sustainable production of beet sugar in the EU.

To read the Partnership Announcement you can click here.

Cover EU BSSP AnnouncementCover Announcement EU BSSP

Why sustainability?

Sustainability is a multidimensional concept that encompasses economic viability, environmental protection and social responsibility. With its flagship ‘Europe 2020 strategy’ the EU has put sustainability at the heart of the European project with the purpose of creating conditions of growth that is ‘smarter, more sustainable and more inclusive’. 

This partnership agreement between European beet growers, sugar producers and trade unions in the beet sugar sector aims toreport on good agricultural, industrial, social and environmental practices for the sector while taking into account the relevant elements of economic viability needed for stable and reliable beet sugar production in the EU.


Why now?

European beet sugar production has achieved high levels of sustainability through continuous improvement in all three dimensions of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) in recent decades. Their more recent sustainability performance is recorded in the joint environmental and social projects set up in the last decade and still ongoing (see ‘further reading’ section at the end of this document).

The three partners of the European beet sugar sector acknowledge that in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of their sector they must continue to develop and disseminate good practices that support the consolidation of sustainable practices in EU beet growing and processing. Hence, through a common understanding of what constitutes sustainable production of beet sugar in Europe, the partners’ aims are:

  1. To facilitate the access to and dissemination of knowledge regarding sustainable practices in the sector.
  2. To help consolidate sustainable practices in EU beet growing and processing.
  3. To provide a platform for future dialogue in the field of sustainabilitywith other sector stakeholders.

 How will the project be carried out?

The partners have agreed to create a working platform, including a steering committee and three technical working groups, covering notably agriculture, industrial and social aspects of beet sugar production in Europe. In addition, partners intend to involve external expertise to provide independent advice for this partnership.

The partners will be working together, engaging in a constructive dialogue and exchange with other stakeholders, while managing the overall process to deliver a concrete outcome for the sector within the following timeline:


What topics will be dealt with in this sustainability partnership?

Although only the joint work of the partners and, later on, the consultation of stakeholders will determine the final outcome of this joint work, the partners have agreed that as many topics as possible should be looked at, including at least the following:

Further reading:

In order to know more about the European beet sugar chain partners and their sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility record, you can refer to the following documents:

–        EFFAT-CEFS annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) implementation reports (2003-2012):

–        CIBE-CEFS joint reports on environmental sustainability (2003, 2010):

–        Study on ‘The Carbon Footprint of EU Beet Sugar’ (2012):

Socio-demographic analysis of the European Sugar Sector: challenges and opportunities for successful succession planning, youth employment and better health at work Report published April 2015


Over the past 10 years, the sugar sector has been particularly hit by a massive wave of restructurings leading to the closure of almost half of its factories and half of its workforce. Partly as a result of that process the current sugar workforce in Europe is particularly old in comparison with the rest of the Food and Drink industry and the economy as a whole. The sector also suffers from the handicap of being a highly technical sector located in rural areas, where there is generally a scarcity of qualified workers. Finally, the sugar sector also endures the difficulty –common to the rest of the Food and Drink industry- to attract young recruits.

As this study has shown, the EU sugar sector has raised above many of those challenges. Indeed there are multiple examples of age-specific or age-sensitive initiatives and policies in sugar companies to facilitate the adaptation and ensure the retention of senior workers and their knowledge (more on that in section 2 of this report). Succession planning and the timely transmission of knowledge also appear as aspects widely identified by sugar companies as key for the management of their workforce (Section 3) whereas multiple efforts are developed to attract young graduates and to train young local workers with no prior qualifications (Section 4).

Across the report there are numerous individual examples of sugar companies that provide useful ideas and good practice examples for companies in the sugar sector and beyond. We can mention for example the concept of ‘sequential retirement’ (allowing retired workers to come back to work for the time of the processing season) in Slovakia, the inter-generational and multi-disciplinary teams put in place in The Netherlands, the integration in a single process of succession planning, recruitment and transmission of knowledge in Spain and the development of a comprehensive program for workers aged 58+ covering aspects such as health, training, working time and retirement policies in Finland.

As the situation ahead will remain not less challenging for the sector with the end of sugar quotas in 2017, those efforts must be continued. Thus the social partners call for the sector to continue and consolidate the efforts it has put in place. They also call for national authorities to put in place regulatory frameworks that promote and support companies’ adaptation of workplaces and working conditions to older workers. National legal frameworks should also allow for gradual and flexible retirement practices to flourish as a way to keep senior workers for longer in the workforce while allowing them to keep their full rights to pensions and other social benefits. The EU can play an important role in promoting Member States initiatives in that regard.

Socio-demographic study Sugar Sector – FINAL

For questions or remarks on this report please contact CEFS or EFFAT Secretariats at and The report will be available online on the Social Partners’ common website and on their respective organisations’ websites.


CEFS and EFFAT would like to thank Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, for their support and comments in reviewing the final draft version of the report.


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