PMA president and CEO Cathy Burns spoke Nov. 1 at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas 50th Nogales Produce Convention. ( The Packer )

TUBAC, Ariz. — Cathy Burns encouraged suppliers, importers and buyers at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas' 50th Nogales Produce Convention to take a close look at the Produce Industry Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices and consider endorsing it.

Burns, president and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, spoke Nov. 1 at the Fresh Produce Association of the America’s annual convention. Burns reviewed efforts by PMA and the United Fresh Produce Association since 2015 on the Ethical Charter.

“We have an overall vision ... as the global business community to come together to contribute its assets, its skills, and its influence and reach across the world to create a framework and ultimately make sure that all the fruits, vegetables we produce, and flowers we grow, are done so in a responsible way,” she said.

The groups targeted four goals:

  • Create a framework for the ethical charter;
  • Create tools and a program to bring that framework to life;
  • Ensure the program has engagement with all partners in the supply chain; and
  • Educate and build awareness.

“Your feedback is really wanted; it is an industry charter, not a PMA or United Fresh charter, it is an opportunity to come out and say we are an industry that treats our people really, really well,” she said.

The Ethical Charter’s website,, lists the 60 charter endorsers so far and gives an explanation in detail of its principles of respect for laws at work, respect for professional conduct and respect for human rights.

Burns said the Ethical Charter was formally opened for industry comments in January 2017.

“We listened, we made some changes based on the comments,” she said.

At the PMA’s Fresh Summit Oct. 18-20 in Orlando, Fla., representatives of auditors and standard-setting systems were invited to give input on how they might be able to support the charter, perhaps by including elements of it in their auditing efforts.

Burns said the Ethical Charter is not legally binding, but a set of guiding principles about how the industry should treat employees.

A critical question is how it applies to an individual business, and Burns said there are now tools on the website to help companies enact the charter.

Those tools include measurement criteria and a self-assessment tool to see where companies might have gaps in their approach and what actions could help them close gaps.

Another consideration is how to make the ethical charter a factor in purchasing decisions, she said.

“I’m saying that I endorse the principles, but how do I put it into the work that I do every day?” Burns said. “The buyers are trying to figure it out, the auditors and standard-setting systems are trying to figure it out, and grower-shippers are trying to figure it out.”

She noted some suppliers now use the charter as part of their contract with growers and others are putting it in their vendor portals.

Burns said PMA plans to have a web seminar in December looking at how companies are implementing the Ethical Charter.