​Driving Collaboration for Grower Sustainability
Linwood Sykes, Managing Director Leaf Procurement, Altria Client Services
​We understand the challenges tobacco growers are facing from declining industry volumes. We strive to sustain our grower base in a variety of ways as proven by our direct contracting model, long-term contracts, incentive programs and addressing societal expectations.
One way we address societal expectations is through our involvement with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Connections. GAP Connections is a third-party entity, governed by a board of directors consisting of leaf buyers, tobacco manufacturers, and grower organizations. GAP Connections oversees the GAP standards which cover crop production practices, environmental practices and labor standards. As a member of the board, we approached our industry peers, grower organizations and GAP Connections with an idea to develop a voluntary grower certification program in 2017, with the goal of continuing to enhance the sustainability of our grower base and tobacco supply chain.​
As a result, the GAP Connections Certification Program was launched in January of 2018. For our growers, the voluntary program gives them a chance to distinguish themselves in the marketplace and stand out from the rest of the pack. Participating growers also receive training and resources to be more sustainable with their land and the environment as well as how to comply with labor management practices which protect the rights of their workers and promote a safe working environment. The certification program provides access to monitoring, such as on-farm audits, which identify areas in need of improvement and a clear remediation plan that makes correcting deficiencies easier. Another unique aspect of the program is that it has a Worker's Concern Helpline for all workers of participating growers to reach out with any concerns, and GAP Connections will provide resolution assistance. The program also provides all growers access to a Human Resources hotline, free of charge, should a grower have questions regarding labor laws.​
We were very active in encouraging our growers to participate in 2018. About 25 percent of our grower base applied for certification, and of that, 98 percent of them achieved it. We were excited to see our growers lead the industry in both of these categories. It's been fulfilling to see this certification program grow from a small idea, to something that is really moving the whole conversation forward on the role of social responsibility in this space. It is our goal to have 100 percent of contracted growers GAP Connections certified by 2021.​


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