In the fast-changing world of international markets influenced by consumer opinion, a “social licence to operate” is becoming increasingly important for kiwifruit growers.
The subject has been investigated by Dr Mike Murphy, who is the New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc communications manager and author of the Kellogg’s Rural Leadership report titled ‘Grower’s role in promoting the value of New Zealand kiwifruit: mechanisms which encourage the use of good practice to create a positive identity for social license to operate’.
The report is the result of six months of intensive research and interviews by Mike, who was one of 22 men and women from a wide variety of rural careers, who took part in the six-month leadership programme last year.
“When I started out on this project, I wanted to focus on something which would be of benefit to the kiwifruit industry and a topic which had not been thoroughly examined before. Quite what happens next with the report is still to be decided,” says Mike, who is to deliver his report and recommendations to the NZKGI executive.
Through GLOBALGAP standards prescribed by Zespri, growers already exceed required minimum regulatory standards, but there is still room to go further and doing so is important if the industry is to be sustainable for the long term.
“For instance, if research can show that by paying workers more than the minimum wage for pruning their vines and picking fruit, growers will achieve better outcomes and returns it may be possible to encourage more growers to do so.”
Establishing good relationships with neighbours, such as by installing shelterbelts to reduce concerns about spray drift, is another way growers could improve their social licence to operate.
A relatively new concept for agri-business, ‘social licence to operate’ refers to the ongoing favourable acceptance of a company or industry standard business practices and operating procedures by its employees, stakeholders, and the general public.
Mike says in his report: “Today, Social Licence to Operate is critical for business longevity. The kiwifruit industry is in a good position to implement communication mechanisms which further encourage growers to conduct good practice beyond the regulatory minimum. In addition, this implementation will further strengthen the industry’s ability to utilise SLO to create sustainable value and long-term profitability”.
Social licence to operate is in many ways an intangible factor, because it is linked to perceptions and emotions, and in particular trust.
“Trust involves if the business can be trusted, has a positive influence on society and is honest and ethical in the way that business is conducted. Brands, including those of the kiwifruit industry, are more resilient if they invest ‘reservoirs of trust-building activity’ (Colmar Brunton, 2019), which includes investment into building social capital with stakeholders. Trust is gained by stakeholders when businesses fulfil the socioemotional criteria required for SLO.”
Mike says examining the importance of SLO is timely. “The kiwifruit industry is already very busy in this area of sustainability to proactively gain social capital. One example is front-footing the topic of water sustainability as a joint industry effort.”
The kiwifruit industry is currently experiencing a profitable growth phase, which makes it more likely growers will be willing to focus on SLO initiatives.
Taking part in the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme, says Mike, was very valuable including enabling him to network with people from across the primary sector. “One way or another we all face the same issues, although they may be dressed up a little differently. We also had the chance to meet and be addressed by senior industry leaders, politicians and government officials.
“It was a personally rewarding experience, but I also wanted to ensure the research which came from it was of value to the kiwifruit industry.
“I would thoroughly recommend the programme to anyone interested in applying for a scholarship, with the proviso that they are aware it requires a lot of dedication and hard work over and above your normal job. In this I was very fortunate to have the support and encouragement of my boss, NZKGI CEO Nikki Johnson.”
Mike’s report and more about the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme can be found at: https://ruralleaders.co.nz/