Rebbl’s approach shows that creating value through an ethical supply chain is possible — but it requires companies to really understand the situation on the ground, listen to local communities and create win-win solutions.
Rebbl — a San Francisco Bay Area-based company that produces a range of healthy, ethically sourced, organic beverages — has just released a short documentary, “Rebbl with a Cause,” which explores how the company has worked with remote villages in the Peruvian Amazon to create an ethical supply chain for one of its key ingredients: brazil nuts.
Rebbl’s origin story is unique. It was co-founded by beverage industry veteran Palo Hawken, son of Drawdown author and environmental changemaker Paul Hawken; and the nonprofit, Not for Sale, which was looking for a way to bring change to indigenous communities in Peru, which had identified as being at high risk for human trafficking and exploitation.
“It’s simple to rescue someone, but it’s hard to give someone an opportunity for the future,” David Batstone, founder and president of Not for Sale, told Sustainable Brands after a Tuesday night screening of the documentary in San Francisco.
Not for Sale was running shelters and providing services to victims, but saw an opportunity to do more to prevent human trafficking. Its solution was to create a beverage company that sources ingredients from not only the Peruvian Amazon, but similar high-risk communities in 30 countries. The goal was to provide income to vulnerable communities for producing sustainable and ethical ingredients, to help stop them from migrating to cities where they were likely to be exploited.
Today, Rebbl (Roots, Extracts, Berries, Bark and Leaves) produces a variety of super herb and plant protein elixirs, using 70 ingredients sourced ethically from around the world. They’ve been a hit, with sales over 20 million bottles to date; 2.5 percent of sales go back to Not for Sale, so that it can continue its important work.
“I came to a point in my life where I just don’t want to drink people’s tragedy anymore. I can choose to live, work and invest in a different way,” — David Batstone
The product was created to help solve a big problem: Human trafficking and modern slavery, which are rampant all over the world. Despite (or, perhaps, because of?) globalization and decades of economic growth, there are more people living in slavery today than any other time in history. The figures are stark — the United Nations estimates that 168 million children are victims of child labor across the world, while the Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people are enslaved.
Supply chains are part of the problem. As companies grew and began to source from distant regions, it became more difficult to trace supply chains, which — alongside cost-reducing pressures — led to labor and human rights abuses. Studies show that forced and child labor is still rampant across many companies’ supply chains, including in the garment, technology, and commodity industries.
“Supply chains are really complicated — when you start understanding that at every step in the value chain, there are people with their hands involved in the creation of that ingredient,” said Jessica Hayes, Rebbl’s Global Sourcing Manager. “You need to understand where there are opportunities for exploitation, as globalized supply chains can hide that.”
Because it was founded with a social mission, and because it had the support of Not for Sale, Rebbl was able to deeply invest in communities in ways that other companies either cannot, or are not willing to. Case in point: It took eight years to get the Peruvian communities featured in the documentary to a place where they could independently develop products and be a reliable source of brazil nuts for Rebbl.
Rebbl’s approach shows that creating an ethical supply chain is possible — but it requires companies to really spend time to understand the situation on the ground, listen to local communities and create win-win solutions.
Now, it's time for others to follow. One of the film’s directors, Gagan Jared Levy, said he saw hope in a recent move by almost 200 CEOs at the Business Roundtable, who have redefined the purpose of a corporation to include stakeholders alongside shareholders.
“It was inspiring,” Levy said. “It feels like we are entering a new business paradigm, where big companies can actually make those types of commitments and hopefully execute.”