It’s time to address the elephant in the room.
For every policy that is being approved, executed, and monitored, there is a counter tact being formulated. This particular pattern is evident not just in the realm of food safety and quality, but also other spheres as well, such as banking, logistics, etc. This turbulence that has been around for quite a while is corruption, and unfortunately it is understudied and underestimated.
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Corruption is the misuse of authority and trust in favor of one’s own interests, and this not only damages commonly accepted standards of integrity, but has other ramifications as well. For instance, it could tarnish a brand’s or industry’s image, cause unwanted food wastage through destruction of products held in inventory or other storage areas, and in some cases, it can result in unemployment when the gates of the organization are permanently closed.
Food fraud is the brainchild of corruption and they both operate in a symbiotic fashion. The recent Brazilian meat scandal is one classic example of this—roughly 20 meat processing units were implicated initially, but the whole meat processing industry froze in a matter of days and all meat export divisions were hard hit.
If you deconstruct corruption and isolate its elements, you’ll realize that a corrupt system, in fact, mirrors a business model. Corruption feeds off of intricate networks wherein each web is powered and defended by its “proprietor,” who almost always is in it for personal gain.
A small yet very significant part of developing and maintaining the right work culture, especially in the food and beverage industries, involves establishing steps to not just identify corruption, but also combat it.
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So how does one ensure that their organization is prepared to nip corruption by the bud? Below are a few pointers.
Approachability. Create an environment where associates feel safe to approach the management and address their concerns. One of the reasons why corruption thrives is because “whistleblowers” feel that their concerns just might not be heard and/or may be dismissed.
Crucial conversations. Some conversations are easy and some can be quite a challenge, such as a subordinate addressing a concern about their direct reports or a colleague. This is in a way tied to approachability, but comes with a human element. At the end of the day, associates need to feel confident about their organization’s ability to address disputes in an unbiased fashion. This begins with a simple conversation before even thinking about documentation.
Education. More often than not, the first victims of corruption are the ones who have not encountered it before. In the diverse and multicultural work space, it’s imperative that associates are educated on what the telltale signs are and are encouraged to report incidents and/or suspicions. Education goes both ways—share the knowledge but continue learning as well. When it comes to food quality and safety management, it is an understood obligation to remain vigilant.
Security first. In this day and age, conversations are more digital, as are financial transactions. Ensure your organization’s servers are secure so that information does not get “leaked out.” Develop good due diligence through documentation systems and utilize smart approaches. There needs to be a shift from “how much” is being documented to “what” is being documented.
Fighting fraud and corruption will always be a continuous battle, but it’s a fight that can be won if the right tools are in place and the whole team is on the same page. As with most systems, it begins with top management.
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