The State of Children's Rights and Business

Suntory: Giving back to society

Global Benchmark 2022

Company score level:

Leader

Sector:

Food, Beverage & Personal Care

Industry:

Food & Beverage

Country HQ:

Japan

About Suntory

Founded as a family-owned business in 1899 in Osaka, Japan, Suntory Group has grown into a global company operating throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania with annual revenue (excluding excise taxes) of $19.8 billion in 2021. They have a diverse portfolio of products from premium spirits, beer, and wine to brewed teas, bottled water, carbonated soft drinks, ready-to-drink coffee, and energy drinks, along with health and wellness products. Suntory is home to Japanese whiskies Yamazaki, Hibiki and Hakushu as well as iconic American spirits Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Its brand collection also includes non-alcoholic beverages such Orangina, Lucozade, Ribena, TEA+ Oolong Tea as well as the popular health and wellness product Sesamin EX.

About the case series

Global Child Forum knows that one of the best ways to increase your company’s positive impact on children is by learning from others. The challenges that companies face, while seemingly unique, do share much in common with one another when trying to understand how best to manage operations sustainably and with a child-first perspective. The cases in this series, based on interviews with company professionals are executing on their company’s sustainability and human rights practices,  provide a range of perspectives and solutions that we hope widen your thinking on what’s possible when children’s rights are put into focus.

Case:

Giving back to society

With over 40,000 employees and annual revenue of nearly 20 billion dollars US, it would not be an overstatement to say that Suntory is a big player in the beverage and spirits industry. And given that this is one of Japan’s largest beverage companies, it’s fitting that their philosophy is rooted in the Japanese expression “Yatte Minahare,” which is the spirit of dreaming big along with the spirit of “giving back to society”.

But with a company of such magnitude – their popular brands include household names such as Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark Bourbon, award-winning Japanese whiskies Yamazaki, Hibiki, non-alcoholic favorites Orangina, Lucozade, Ribena, Suntory Tennensui water, and TEA+– how does Suntory mobilize to retain its standing as a global citizen?

“To create harmony with people and nature”

Suntory is united around a set of core principles centered on its mission “To create harmony with people and nature,” underpinned by “Giving back to society” and the Japanese concept of “Yatte Minahare”, which has been demonstrated throughout their nearly century-old history.

Today, their work is structured around their Sustainability Vision that set seven core themes for their business. And to pursue this, various guiding principles such as the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, the Children’s Rights, and Business Principles, as well as various institutional standards of conduct are referred to.

But what do these principles look like in practice for Suntory? The company stresses that children are at the core of the community programs they design, which center on environmental stewardship, arts, culture, and sport. “We are very focused on how we support the children, whom we call the ‘next generation,’” says Yuko Koshiishi, Senior General Manager, Corporate Sustainability Department at Suntory. ”For example, our Suntory Environmental Principles consider how we pass on our environment to the next generation. We also support children through our social activities.”

To illustrate, over 320,000 children across seven countries have participated in a nature program called “Mizuiku” which teaches the importance of water in addressing local issues. Programs for elementary, junior high, and high schools focus on PET bottle recycling awareness. And workshops at Suntory Hall and the Suntory Museum of Art introduce children to the arts and support young musicians and artists. The company also provides children opportunities to engage in sports – a pillar of childhood wellness. Of course, many of these programs are good for society and make good business sense for the company by encouraging water reduction, eliminating plastic waste, and recycling.

Responsible marketing

Childhood wellness encompasses more than education programs and good community initiatives. Many companies, especially in the food and beverage sector, need to deeply understand the impact of their marketing practices on children – even when children are not their primary consumers. This is especially true in the alcoholic beverage category, where misuse of alcohol is a reality. Their “Drink Smart” campaign, committed to the responsible consumption of alcohol, is one example of their efforts to tackle underage drinking and other initiatives.

On the other hand, the opportunity exists to develop better products for the consumer – including children. Their group company in Europe aims to reduce sugar by 35% by 2025 and, in Oceania, increase that portion of its portfolio which is low or no-sugar, to one-third by 2030.

Looking ahead

One of the company’s biggest challenges is understanding the potential human rights risks in their supply chain. Slimane Gani, lead for Human Rights at Suntory’s Corporate Sustainability, acknowledges that, from a child rights perspective, gaining more visibility on the risks that are being experienced upstream in the supply chain– reaching into 2nd tier, 3rd tier, and farm level – is critical when rooting out child labor.

Core to this issue is to further improve our ingredient’s traceability. “Achieving traceability in multi-tiered supply chains with hundreds of thousands of farmers is challenging, although very important,” says Slimane Gani. “While promoting human rights due diligence in our supply chain, it is also important to increase our ability to identify, track and trace our inputs along the supply chain.” For a company like Suntory, with a global supply chain including nearly every country, this is one of the key challenges.

With such an extensive reach – through their products and producers, their people, and their consumers – Suntory has a big potential to drive change for good. Starting with our children.

Read more: Sustainability at Suntory

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