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Mother and child from a cocoa farming community.

Reflections from the 75th United Nationals General Assembly

Originally published on LinkedIn by Lisa Manley, Vice President, Sustainability at Mars

Last week, I had the privilege of participating in the 75th UN General Assembly. This year’s convening was unlike any other – instead of jostling through crowded New York City streets, participants were jumping from one virtual session to the next.

I enjoyed lending my voice to three of the events hosted throughout the week. Following are my key reflections from those sessions:

1. How we’ve been thinking and talking about climate change is a problem. At the SDG Action Zone, I did a Lighting Talk sharing my perspective on climate justice. It seems that with every win in the battle for climate action, we are met with a setback that derails our momentum.

I now believe that a big part of the problem (and an equally big part of the solution), lies in how we think and talk about climate change. Our collective focus has been incredibly narrow, limiting the conversation and efforts around climate change to mitigating environmental risks. We have failed to amplify the deep implications that climate change will have on health, livelihoods, housing and migration for billions of people around the world – particularly those in the Global South. To achieve the world we want tomorrow, we need to be talking about climate justice, not just climate change, because it’s impossible to separate climate change from inequality and injustice.

2. Asking tough questions is the first step to real action on poverty. I also joined a Business Fights Poverty (BFP) panel about tackling poverty in agricultural supply chains. In this discussion moderated by Zahid Torres of BFP, I was honored to join Christina Archer from the UNDP Green Commodities Program, Ezgi Barcenas from Anheuser-Busch InBev and Fatema Sumar of Oxfam America in sharing perspectives about The Farmer Income Lab, a multi-stakeholder platform that we’re all engaged in together.

Mars founded The Lab in 2017 because we believed that not enough attention was being paid to poverty in global supply chains – making it the “elephant in the room” of sustainability. In determining our approach, we recognized that we needed to ask the tough questions, invest in research and showcase findings broadly. We’re now working on leveraging our findings to shape strategies that allow us to rethink and refocus our procurement practices so that more value can accrue to farmers directly.

3. COVID-19 has created an even more urgent need for collective action on human rights. Finally, I participated in a roundtable discussion on human rights in global supply chains hosted by Concordia. Our panel of business and civil society representatives discussed the challenges and complexities of issues including forced and child labor, women’s inequality, poverty and worker health and safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges – putting vulnerable people at even greater risk. Because the pandemic is disrupting our access to origins and supplier facilities, practices such as forced labor are now even harder to pinpoint and fix.

If we are going to solve for these challenges, we must put vulnerable people at the center of our efforts to advance decent work. It’s time to address what’s perpetuating inequalities by working collaboratively on our expectations for fair wages, respect for human rights, safe working conditions and gender equity. We need collective action to transform supply chains and we need governments to step up enforcement of labor laws. Government action applied fairly and uniformly will raise the bar for all industries, and it’s imperative to driving change at pace and scale.

While it’s impossible to capture the energy, connectivity and inevitable mayhem of an in-person UNGA, the various virtual events did a nice job of bringing people together on important issues, shaping new forms of engagement, and hopefully enabling a wider and more diverse group of voices to participate. I look forward to continuing these dialogues and taking actions that make meaningful differences on important issues like climate justice, decent income and human rights.