IKEA withdraws its commitment to gold standard welfare for chickens

| 30th November 2017
Rooster

Chickens love to play and will run, jump and sunbathe when given the chance – yet billions of them spend their entire lives in cramped sheds with less floor space than an A4 piece of paper.

The Compassion in World Farming Good Chicken Award is being embraced by more multinational companies operating in more nations then ever before. But IKEA has just withdrawn from the programme in seven countries. JACK ALEXANDER reports on how IKEA's apparent lack of progress is completely at odds with the growing movement for higher welfare chicken production

IKEA’s decision to withdraw is a highly retrograde step and completely at odds with the growing movement for higher welfare chicken production both in the EU and US.

The international furniture store IKEA is withdrawing its commitment to higher welfare chicken production in nine of the eleven countries where the company holds the Compassion in World Farming Good Chicken Award.

The decision comes as 50 US companies - including Subway, Burger King and Kraft Heinz - have made 2024 commitments to make "meaningful improvements" to the lives of broiler chickens. This includes tackling the fundamental problems of fast growing breeds, and the basic need to provide enough space and an enriched environment for the chickens to live and carry out normal behaviours.

Dr Tracey Jones, director of food business at Compassion said:  “IKEA’s lack of progress towards their higher welfare commitments and their recent decision to withdraw completely from them is a highly retrograde step and completely at odds with the growing movement for higher welfare chicken production both in the EU and US.”

On-farm visits

Compassion in World Farming announced that IKEA Belgium, IKEA Germany, IKEA Portugal, IKEA Czech Republic/Hungary/Slovakia, IKEA Denmark, IKEA Finland and IKEA France are all withdrawing from the charity's awards. IKEA Italy and IKEA Switzerland will continue to honour their commitments.  

Knorr, the leading brand for Unilever, has committed to higher welfare chicken production at a global level for its bouillon products. Unilever has extended its commitments across all products both in the US and EU.

In addition, Elior Group has  became the first contract caterer to sign up to the same higher welfare standards for chickens across its entire global operations. 

IKEA was among the companies which appeared committed to better farming conditions. However, Compassion claims there has been "a lack of progress on IKEA’s broiler welfare commitments" from 2014.

Since then, Compassion’s Food Business team has been working with IKEA, providing technical support which included on-farm visits and training, to help them meet these commitments.

Witnessing a resurgence

IKEA is currently developing its ‘Better Chicken Programme’, the detail of which is likely to fall short of commitments made under the Good Chicken Award, and also the standards now being adopted by companies in both the EU and US.

Ms Jones said: “Compassion’s awards are given to companies on a five-year commitment period to allow for transitions in what can often be long and complicated supply chains. Where transitions take longer, we continue to work with companies to progress their roadmap.

"Where companies decide not to honour their commitments we publically communicate their withdrawal as part of our commitment to transparency."

She added: "Like any other business decision, commitments on animal welfare should be made for the long term -  embedded into a public facing policy and supported at all levels in the business to ensure they can be achieved.

"We are currently witnessing a resurgence in food company commitment to improving broiler welfare and we urge IKEA to rethink and enhance its regional approach.”

Minimum baseline

A spokesperson for IKEA told The Ecologist: "At IKEA we believe all animals in our supply chain should live decent lives and as a responsible business we work proactively to improve animal welfare. 

"IKEA Food Services AB confirms that nine of the IKEA retail organisations that received Compassion in World Farming’s Good Chicken Award unfortunately have not fulfilled all criteria. As a consequence they withdrew from the award.

"IKEA remains strongly committed to animal welfare. We share Compassion in World Farming’s vision of meaningful progress for animals in food supply chains. After two years of research and stakeholder engagement, we have developed the Better Programmes to move towards a holistic, global approach to raise standards for all species in our supply chain, including chickens.

"The Better Programmes combine animal welfare principles with a research and development agenda as part of our commitment to continuously improve. They set our minimum baseline sourcing criteria globally, while still enabling markets and regions to achieve higher standards beyond the programme. We also welcome the recent European Broiler Ask and believe it will contribute to strong momentum towards higher animal welfare in the food industry."

This Author

Jack Alexander is a regular contributor to The Ecologist.