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The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated awareness around the impact of sourcing practices (Zhou, Chou and Tsai, 2020) on various actors in food supply chains. Firms have been confronted with the need to address new stressors, risks and threats. Workforces in lower income countries supplying the UK have often lacked access to sufficient PPE, job security and good hygiene facilitates, exacerbated by the pandemic disruption (Fairtrade, 2021). There have been growing calls to reduce biodiversity loss and wider environmental degradation caused by farming and food production practices (OECD, 2020). For certain products, certification has proven valuable in facilitating lines of communication to keep trade moving, and working out where additional support is needed highlighting the embedded resilience such schemes can foster (Fairtrade Foundation, 2020).

At the same time, consumer’s consumption patterns have shown a turn to consider the ethical and sustainable implications of their food and drink purchases (Chkanikove and Mont, 2021). There is evidence to show that more affluent segments of the population are making more sustainable choices, shifting brand dedication and seeking alternatives where products do not meet their values (Borsellino, Kaliji and Schimmenti, 2020). However, research has also shown that production standards and country of origin have lost importance for some consumers, with food safety instead a priority (Meixner and Katt, 2020).

Consumers have sought the nostalgia and sentiment from comfort foods in the pandemic, as well as opportunities to experiment, create and participate in consuming products with green credentials. Questions have been raised over the potential impact of shifting purchasing towards greener products, the role of the pandemic on the future of ethical production practices, and the implications for those in the production process (Foden et al., 2017; Moloney and Strengers, 2014; Lehner, Mont and Heiskanen, 2016).

Questions here include:

  • What impact has the pandemic had on standards and certification of sustainable sourcing? How have the future pathways and targeted goals been effected?
  • What impact have the changing consumption patterns of consumers had on schemes supporting more sustainable and ethical production practices? What has this meant for both the workers and organisations involved in production as well as for retailers?
  • What can be learnt from the experience of the pandemic with regards to upholding better production and sourcing standards in the food (and drink) sector?