Starting as dye-making business in 1865 this German company is now one of the world’s leading chemical companies. It has approximately 94,000 employees working in 100 production sites serving over 170 countries. Its main operating areas cover chemicals; plastics; performance products; agricultural production and nutrition; and oil and gas.
From its early history BASF has provided affordable housing, health insurance plans and on-site medical facilities. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of its employees BASF has continued this tradition in emerging markets.
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BASF has been a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact since 26 July 2000.
As a foundation signatory to the UN Global Compact, two employees from the nutrition division were keen to establish a project focused on alleviating micronutrient deficiency.
Often referred to as the ‘hidden hunger’ micronutrient deficiency is a particular form of malnutrition where individuals do not receive the essential recommended intake of vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development.
More than two billion people worldwide are affected by the deficiency and it is estimated that one million people die annually from Vitamin A deficiency alone.
The ‘Copenhagen Consensus’, a study undertaken by leading economists named the alleviation of malnutrition as one of the world’s biggest challenges but one that could be overcome for minimal cost.
This can be most effectively achieved through the fortification of food. For instance, Vitamin A is most typically found in milk, liver, eggs, red and orange fruit and leafy green vegetables. The many people living on less than $2US a day can rarely afford these items. Therefore, it is more effective to fortify a cheaply available staple food.
This was the case put forward by two BASF employees who also highlighted the reputational benefits, impact on employee morale, enhanced relationships with stakeholders, especially those in emerging markets as well as the benefits of economies of scale for BASF products. But most impressive was the social benefit achieved for the investment.
The board accepted their proposal and the Micronutrient Malnutrition Initiative was born. Subsequent research was undertaken to determine which countries were most affected. The findings included Kenya, the Philippines and Morocco.
In order to deliver the project BASF partnered with the Swiss foundation the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) who brought expertise in nutrition programmes and in bringing together public and private partners.
This was incredibly important as BASF has a limited presence in many developing countries, especially throughout Africa. GAIN was able to help select local firms that needed only minimal capacity building and training to produce the enhanced product.
Furthermore, significant engagement was required with local communities and NGOs who typically distributed non-fortified foods and distributing vitamins through the ad hoc distribution of capsules.
The intention instead was to make the project a long-term, economically viable initiative to ensure it became self-sustaining.
The Kenyan project was launched in 2002 and focused on making a fortified edible oil nationally available. Kenyan employees were trained in the food fortification process as well as the importance of nutrition. A draft implementation plan was developed for discussion with local stakeholders.
A multi-stakeholder conference was held in 2003 to bring together all of the stakeholders involved in food fortification. Whilst it was well received, it was important to ensure the momentum continued.
To achieve this a National Food Fortification Alliance was established to finalise a concrete road map and goals including a well-managed labelling scheme and three fortified edible fats and oils on the market by the end of 2006.
In addition, BASF developed and provided field testing kits to ensure quality control and to test staple foods at rural market and even household level.
In addition to the three brands using the certified logo for vitamin A, nine more are applying for certification.
It is estimated that more than one million undernourished people are currently being reached by the programme.
Whilst it is too early to demonstrate health improvement directly resulting from the project the increases in demand and consumption would indicate they will not be far behind.
Furthermore, alliances are now run successfully in a number of countries supported by GAIN and the model developed in conjunction with BASF.
© Article 13 - October 2008
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