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The aim of this paper is to use specific theories, models and general understandings to research, analyse and report the prevalence of ethical, sustainable and responsible impacts made or considered by firms operating in the retail food industry
In ethical theory, there two major theories which are often considered when talking about food ethics including the consequential and non-consequential theories (Korthals, 2015). The consequentialist theory consider the impact of one’s or a firm’s actions and focuses on the consequence that specific actions taken have on people or the environment (Korthals, 2015). Consequentialist ethical theories place significant weight on the effects or consequences of an action more than the specific action. In the consequentialist theories, good consequences should outweigh the negative impact of an action (Korthals, 2015). A major theory under the consequential theory is utilitarianism that states that a good action should be the one which results in maximum human good and pleasure (Korthals, 2015). Based on the utilitarian theory, humans should be able to live based on their own preferences, what is referred to as the highest happiness to the most people (Patel, 2020).
On the other hand, there are non-consequentialist theories such as the deontological ethical theory (Patel, 2020). This theory judges the goodness according to the specific act and not its consequences. According to the deontological theory, an act is right only under certain obligations, laws or rules which either make immoral or moral. The deontological theory emphasises duty to others, oneself or to God (Almiron, 2020). Under the deontological theory, right or correct actions can also lead to bad consequences (Almiron, 2020).
In the food industry, one of the main considerations when thinking of ethics is the future generation. It is important for firms in this sector to balance their present gains or profits with the potential future losses. For instance, a food producing company should not simply focus on its process of production and the bottom-line and forget about or ignore how this might lead to the extinction of particular fish or animal species, that is, make profit at the expense of future generations. Another example is clearing the environment to an extent that future generations will not be able to benefit from it (Johnson, 2018).
Food ethics comprises of environmental and animal ethics. Under the consequentialist ethical theories, the outcome of a decision or an action is more important than the act. As such the use of environmental products such as farmed animals is okay as long as their benefits to people (human beings) is more than the cost to the particular resource or animals. According to utilitarian ethical theory subscribers, it is okay to use animals for food if it is done correctly and the animals did not suffer and lived well. Additionally, the animals should be passed through painless death. Therefore, utilitarian ethical theorists condemn intensive or industrial farming (Johnson, 2018). Instead, these consequentialist ethical theorists support farming methods with high animal welfare standards (Johnson, 2018).
Unlike these consequentialist ethical theorists, the non-consequentialist ethical theorists like the deontologists emphasise the more intrinsic animal values such as animal rights. As a result, they oppose their use in any way and fight for these animals to be protected and respected. As a result, if the deontologists’ ethical perspective was to be adopted by everyone, food firms would totally abstain from the use and or the promotion of consuming animal food products (Hafkamp, 2020).
Factors that determine the ethical perspectives by firms in the retail food industry
Today, firms operating in the food industry are required to consider all aspects of the sector, including the settings and conditions under which rearing of animals occur, growing of crops take place, the processing of food is done and marketing of the products take place (Maloni and Brown, 2006). Additionally, it is important for the firms to consider their relationships with processors, producers, retailers, and the rest of society that comprises of different interest groups and consumers (Barnhill and Civita, 2020). Today, firms in the food industry that are looked at as being ethical are those considered to make positive contributions and changes to society (Barnhill and Civita, 2020). Evidence suggests that food manufacturing and marketing, as well as distribution are all issues of ethical considerations and concern and that there are exposure levels which can make a company to be looked at as being unethical (Barnhill and Civita, 2020). Some of the main factors which determine the ethical perspectives by firms in the retail food sector include these one’s discussed below.
Food production and distribution
In this sector, hygiene, safety and health, as well as the quality control are of significant importance (Panghal et al., 2018). Some of the issues of concern in these areas include the animal welfare for meat producing firms, the use of bonded or child labour and employing illegal immigrants in companies. Other issues that companies in this sector consider include those around wrong use of antibiotics, pesticides and chemicals, and the misuse of resources like water and how local farmers are affected. Environmental damage such as soil degradation linked to these processes is also a major factor. One other area that has raised great global concern is global warming. Food producing or distributing firms which are involved in expensive importation of agricultural products which also involve the emission of large amounts of carbon are considered to be unethical (Panghal et al., 2018). Lastly, the growing and production/processing of genetically modified animals or crops has also caused significant ethics commotion in the food production sector (Panghal et al., 2018). While the consequentialists have promoted safer healthy consumption of food, including animals, deontologists have continued to promote animal welfare and vegetarian diets.
Marketing related issues
Issues related to marketing are of major ethical concern in this industry (Lerro et al., 2019). It is considered highly inappropriate for food companies to achieve financial success by encouraging unbalanced and unhealthy diets (Lerro et al., 2019). In this sector, marketing strategies which can promote obesity are considered unethical. It is also wrong to use food packaging that can result in excess sales with increased cases of obesity. Further, wasteful packaging is seen as unethical. Firms should also not use aggressive marketing approaches targeting vulnerable groups like children. For example, it is unethical to promote confectionery items like chocolates and sweets to children. Sponsorship aimed at encouraging ethically inappropriate products in the food industry is also not needed. Moreover, it is wrong to provide misleading information and use wrong labels which lead to the consumption of food unhealthy food products (Lerro et al., 2019). It is also unethical to negotiate or give exclusive vending contracts such as soft drink vending machines for captive audiences like schools, particularly machines which sell unhealthy foods only (Lerro et al., 2019). This is in line with the consequentialist believes of doing everything right to achieve the highest good/happiness to the highest number of people
Trade justice and fair trade issues
Sustainable development and growth strategies required that firms should have the interest of all stakeholders or parties at heart, including local and the entire community, clients or customers, suppliers, employees, lenders and owners (Zerbe, 2018). Firms are required to be involved in the manufacturing and selling of products which are fairly traded through fair price and which can lead to positive societal contribution (Zerbe, 2018). Therefore, programs which support local communities and farmers are highly recommended. Abusing market power using extremely low prices is also considered to be unethical is it benefits only rich consumers where poor farmers are not rewarded adequately for their work. In this regard, farms that are considered to be ethical in this sector are those which respect fair and just trade and avoid lobbying which disadvantage poor countries and producers (Zerbe, 2018).
Environment is one area that is of big concern for about all industries and countries (Hong-li, 2017). All companies, including those in the food industry are encouraged to respect the environment. It is recommended that all firms should comply with and adopt robust and beneficial environmental policies (Hong-li, 2017). Policies which limit the use of too much herbicides, pesticides or antibiotics should be adopted. Furthermore, ethical firms are those which follow responsible use of GM foods. Organisations which emit large amounts of carbon through production or importation are also considered unethical. Firms are also needed to avoid poor practice which destroy original forests and respect the conventional land tenure and practices by small farmers. Lastly, it is unethical to produce waste food products through wasteful processes (Hong-li, 2017). Both deontologists and utilitarian believers support the protection of the environment for the current and future generations.
Predominant ethical views adopted by firms in the food industry
This British chain is East Asian-inspired restaurants and Food Company that deals in grocery and fast food products (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). The first outlet was started in 1997 in London by Julian Metcalfe. Itsu restaurants is an example of a food company that has shown its dedication to maintaining high level of ethics. The priority of this company is promote safety and good health. As a result, the restaurants strategy has been to use healthy and fresh farm products which promote good health. Its ethical standpoint has always been centred on promoting good health in people through healthy food products produced and acquired through fair and just trade and protecting the rights of animals during rearing and their use as food (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). Because this firm serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian safe and healthy Japanese-inspired dishes, it can be assumed that it is utilitarian driven, producing food products that result in the highest good to as many people.
One of this firm’s guiding principles is integrity in all aspects of operation. The company’s success is based on its commitment to professional and personal integrity. It board of directors, employees and officers are required to behave and act ethically all the time. Unlike Itsa restaurants which sell groceries and different food products in its restaurant outlets, Domino’s Piza sells pizza. The company, nonetheless promotes integrity in its production processes, also promoting safety and good health and fair pay to its employees, as well as protecting animal rights (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). This company’s signature food products are actually purely vegetarian, except for their use of sugar. It appears that this company culture of production is inspired by the deontology theory which emphasises promoting animal welfare.
This company is much trusted and loved by consumers because it is often seen as a firm which seeks to act right all the time, especially in sourcing (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). The company functions in a manner that ensures its purchases are acquired and delivered without the exploitation or abuse of the environment, animals, and workers. It is clear that this company considers the implications of its business decision and seeks to improve its commitment to the stakeholders, people and customers and to establish a long-lasting positive reputation associated with products of great value. This company complies with the appropriate standards of health and food safety, as well as codes of behaviour. In their ethics statement, the company notes that it promotes quality, a clean and safe environment, and animal welfare, good relationship with all suppliers, ethical sourcing, and sustainability (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). The company also stands strongly against human trafficking and slavery. Like the other two food firms, this firm also stands for protecting the environments, people’s health (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). Unlike Domino’s Piza which seems to be deontology based, Gregg’s bakery, although it ensures that its products are safer and healthy and the production follows sustainable development, the company uses animal products and seems to work following the utilitarian ethical standpoint.
Burger King Restaurants
This company effectively accounts for the interests of all its stakeholders. As a major competitor in the food sector, Burger King has come up with strategies and programs which address the demands and interest of its stakeholders including investors, communities, employees and customers (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). It gives customers first priority by producing high quality food products which are also reasonably priced. It also ensures there is transparency in its communication with the customers. Producing high quality products and fair pricing enables the company to remain one of the most ethical in the sector since it does not do operate in a manner that compromises its dedication to healthy, safe and fairly priced food products (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). Burger King seems to have been influenced by the deontological ethical theories as it started making purely vegetarian burgers in effort to promote healthier diets, protect animal welfare and protect the environment.
This food firm has stood out as one of the companies that is putting in a lot of efforts to protect the environment, achieve and maintain sustainable growth and development. The company is among firms which maintain highly ethical practices by producing and being passionate about giving its consumers food products that are safe and are of great quality (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). The company ensures that its food products are produced in a safe and responsible manner. It’s safe and ethically produced food products have minimum environmental consequences because it also employs reusable packaging and recycling of some items used in food production (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). Because of the predominant ethical view within the industry, McDonald has become synonymous with sustainable and ethical practices. Today, this company is trending as a firm that is a hundred percent committed to the production of healthy food that is safe to the consumers and one this is focusing on safe packaging and exploration of regenerative agriculture (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). Because McDonald’s still uses animal products in its food items, it can be assumed that it follows the utilitarian ethical approach in its operations.
This company has also focused on ethical food production by creating organisational policies which its corporate citizenship (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). An example of its ethical standpoint is its refusal to buy meat from ranches where forests such the Amazon were cleared. Its strategic plans also align with the need to encourage healthy foods or diets and easting behaviours. Therefore, the company believes not only in producing safe and healthy food products which meet the needs of its customers but also believes that its business associated should be ethical in the sense that they do not focus only on profit but also in the promotion of good health and protecting the environment. In terms of the predominant ethical perspectives in the food industry, this company has, however, been forced to close down some of its restaurants because of cutting cost way down by switching to cheaper logistics than advised thus leading to food wastage (Ethical consumer since 1989, 2021). Similarly, this firm kills chicken to make its signature chicken products. Therefore, it does not follow the deontological ethical approach of protecting animal welfare at all costs. Instead, its social corporate social responsibility approach makes it stand out as a consequentialist (utilitarian) based food firm.
How firms address responsible corporate and social practices compared to direct competitors
There are numerous sustainability problems faced by firms in the food industry, ranging from the acquisition of raw materials to making final products. Firms are now concentrating on creating organisational policies which can enhance their corporate social responsibility (Xu, 2014). One are that has attracted significant attention in terms of achieving corporate responsibility is not using animals produced at the expense of environmental degradation, like buying soy which are grown in farms that are cleared forest areas such as the Amazon forest. This is the same to using animal meat that were reared in cleared forest areas. This has shown their dedication to protecting the environment (Xu, 2014). Fast food farms like McDonalds is using this strategy to protect and conserve natural habitats. To further protect the environment, firms are embarking on biodegradable packaging, unlike its previously preferred eat-in foods served in cardboards and polythene packages which continue to pollute land and sea (Xu, 2014). Moreover, firms like Leon and MacDonald are working to reduce greenhouse emission by using renewable energy and reducing industry intensive production approaches which have often led to higher profit and global warming (The Startups Team, 2020).
Companies are also creating strategies which can help their products to align with consumers’ preferences of healthy eating habits and foods (Xu, 2014). This has been the case of McDonalds, which introduced fruits salads alongside its hamburgers, encouraging its customers to eat healthy. Food companies are also continuing to place people (employee resources) at centre-stage. To reach sustainability, they are focusing on equipping their employees with the necessary skills to produce healthy means and reach short and long-term goals (McDonald, 2021). In an endeavour to achieve sustainable growth and corporate sustainability goals, firms like McDonalds are working to create formal systems which guide their operations in different areas like cost, merchandise, position and promotion. Through these systems, they engage in responsible marketing of healthy and safe products to different consumers (McDonald, 2021). Additionally, firms such as the McDonalds and Leon are recruiting from the local surroundings to enhance the living standards of the surrounding localities (McDonald, 2021).
Smart technologies are also being used by these companies to streamline the supply chain and reduce food waste that has been an environmental problem. To further streamline production and reduce food waste and losses, companies are increasing collaboration efforts and communication to bring all stakeholders together in achieving sustainable development. This has been the strategy of both McDonalds and Leon. One area that both of these firms have failed to reach success is totally going vegetarian and protecting animal welfare as proposed by the deontology theory. A firm like Leon decided to go back to the conventional chicken because its free-range chicken was too costly and unsustainable (Xu, 2014; The Startups Team, 2020)
Recommendations for Leon and McDonalds to be more Sustainable
To be more sustainable needs protecting the environment from pollution like greenhouse gas emission (Korthals, 2015). McDonald and Leon can become self-sufficient by acquiring photovoltaic panels (Korthals, 2015).
They can also reduce the pollution caused by plastics, by reducing the use of plastic packages and straws and instead use biodegradable packaging (Zampori and Dotelli, 2014).
Their ingredients can also be sourced from farmers who are environmentally friendly and who do not engage in overexploitation or natural resources or land degradation (Manikas, Malindretos and Moschuris, 2019).
More recycling and reuse of waste can also be implemented to reduce food waste and environmental pollution (Pellerito, Dounz-Weigt and Micali, 2019).
Unlike the utilitarian focused food firms, non-consequentialist deontologist based food firms are fighting for the total elimination of animal products in food. There are, however, companies which, even though they encourage the protection of human safety and good health in the foods consumed, for instance through a healthy diet, they still use animal products, as long as this leads to the greatest human happiness and good. Food firms are continuing to come up with strategies which can reduce food wastage, greenhouse emission and lead to community improvement and the satisfaction of all its stakeholders. To further achieve corporate social responsibility and sustainable development, it is recommended for food companies to embrace environmentally friendly operation strategies which can reduce greenhouse gas emission, pollution and overexploitation of resource.
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