Sugar Talk Sugar Talk Sugar talk logo

Group of men posing for the camera in a sugarcane field

Supplier quality and ESG audits: Ragus visits Colombia

20/06/2024 By Ben Eastick in News & updates

Sourcing from only quality-approved and responsible sugar suppliers is an enduring commitment at Ragus. For this reason, our directors and senior managers visits Ragus suppliers around the world.

Recently, Ragus made the journey to Colombia to visit three of our sugarcane suppliers. We carried out quality audits on two of these suppliers to assess and confirm compliance, and reviewed their approach to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

In this article, we outline the steps involved in a quality audit and how Ragus is supporting its suppliers to improve quality standards even further, such as through gaining ESG certifications.

Why are sugar supplier visits essential?

These visits give Ragus the opportunity to meet suppliers firsthand, cement relationships, and understand the local logistics impacting on supply, such as moving cut sugarcane from the farm to the mill and processed sugar from the mill to the port. They also allow Ragus to secure a reliable supply of cane sugar for the following twelve months for our customers, and unlock potential additional product streams, such as demerara sugar and molasses.

Three men talking in a sugarcane field

Ragus routinely visits suppliers to carry out quality audits. Here, director Ben Eastick and Ragus quality manager Ibrahim Belo discuss cane agronomy with a supplier in Colombia.

Trucks in an industrial location transporting products

Sugarcane mill visits give Ragus the opportunity to understand local logistics and how it impacts supply, such as transporting cut sugarcane to the mill.

Two men walking and chatting on a lawn, with a building and palm trees in the background

Direct supplier visits enable Ragus to meet the decision makers on location and develop long-term partnerships.

Security of supply is a key consideration. With geopolitical events affecting the viability of key trade routes, such as through the Suez Canal, it is vital to have a global supply base from different continents around the world.

Colombia has deepwater ports on its Caribbean coast, meaning supply can be maintained even when the flow of shipping through the Panama Canal is restricted. Increasingly, it is local visits that highlight this kind of benefit.

Supporting our suppliers with their ESG

The first supplier Ragus visited holds B Corp Certification. To achieve this certification, suppliers must transparently demonstrate high standards of social and environmental performance.

For this supplier, B Corp Certification encourages enterprise and a proactive approach to sugarcane farming best practice. For example, organic fertiliser is being made for use on the sugarcane fields, a development that took 10 years to reach fruition, and the excess fertiliser is bagged and sold to local garden centres. Additionally, a new innovation that is being developed is taking the sugarcane leaves that would otherwise be ploughed back into the fields and shaping them into bales. These bales are then used to power the boilers in the mill in place of burning fossil coal.

A man and a woman talking and standing in front of a large piece of machinery in an industrial location

Organic fertiliser developed by a supplier for its sugarcane fields, inspired by the B Corp ethos.

A tractor lifting bales of straw or hay onto a trailer

B Corp Certification encourages best practice when it comes to farming. One Ragus supplier is using sugarcane leaves, to power the boilers in the mill in place of coal, which is a fossil fuel.

Following B Corp principles to the letter, there is evidence of how much employees are valued. Other ESG initiatives we saw included free schools for mill workers educating 4,000 local children, and 130 university scholarships. The provision of schools and childcare on-site enables single parents to return to employment, another social benefit for the community and workers’ families.

A Ragus representative talking with a schoolgirl in a classroom

Ragus reviews a supplier’s ESG initiatives. All three suppliers in Colombia offer university scholarships.

Ragus is dedicated to buying sugar from the best suppliers, whether it is high quality standards, investment in their workers or the communities they support. These visits and the quality audits and ESG checks demonstrate this.

Ragus’ quality audits

Quality Manager at Ragus, Ibrahim Belo, assesses the processes each supplier has in place against set criteria of standards. The audit investigates the sugar product’s journey from when it first enters the factory to when it is packaged and placed on pallets, ready for distribution.

As Ibrahim says, the foundation of the quality audit is food safety. “From this due diligence, the goal is to make sure everything is done that can be done to ensure a product is safe to consume”.

Men in a factory or industrial setting, talking next to a large piece of machinery (left), a worker wearing a hard hat inspects product in a factory setting (right).

Ragus’ quality manager, Ibrahim Belo, assesses the processes each supplier has in place against set standards criteria as part of the quality audit.

The quality audit assesses everything from what organic pesticides are used on the farm to security vulnerabilities at the sugar mill. For example, if the sugarcane has been exposed to pesticides, are these pesticides approved against the criteria and can they pose a hazard if they are carried into the mill?

The audit also checks the extent to which foreign bodies, pests or poor hygiene could pose a contamination risk in the production area. What best practices are in place to ensure people are vetted before they enter the premises, and when they do, are they wearing the correct personal protective equipment?

Audits are not simply checklists to follow

A line of men in a field looking down into an irrigation system

The Ragus quality audit assesses the newly installed cane field irrigation system which has saved 4,000 litres of water annually.

Ibrahim stresses the quality audit is “not a box ticking exercise. You need to be proactive, not reactive, and identify potential risks before they have a chance to be realised”.

Ragus worker looking upwards and inspecting machinery and plant equipment in an industrial setting or factory

A physical inspection of the mill’s plant and machinery and how it is maintained gives Ragus insight into a supplier’s overall approach.

Physically inspecting the appearance of plant and machinery gives insight into a supplier’s overall approach. Poorly maintained plant and ageing machinery suggests a lack of investment and standards. In contrast, modern equipment and well-maintained machinery shows the supplier invests in its operation to optimise productivity and minimise breakdown and lost production. It is also more environmentally efficient. This demonstrates a positive and proactive culture of doing things in the right way, which bodes well for a future long-term relationship.

Effective communication and cementing relationships

At the final stage of the quality audit, Ragus will meet with the supplier to discuss observations, share ideas for any improvements and provide an assessment. If there are red flags, Ibrahim’s role is to explain what these are and agree a suitable timescale to rectify them before a follow-up inspection. Depending on the nature and severity of the issue, picture evidence may be sufficient to confirm the issue has been resolved.

A Ragus representative talks with a man and a woman in an office setting

At the end of an audit, Ragus will meet with the supplier to provide feedback, discuss observations and state if any improvements are required.

Visiting suppliers is a considerable investment in our time and resources, but the benefits to our customers, our business and our supply chain are clear. We ensure continuity of highest quality pure sugar ingredients supply for our customers at the same time as working towards our ESG commitments.

Ragus responsibly sources its raw sugars from approved suppliers in Africa, the Asia Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe and South America. To learn more, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn.

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

View more