Bel’s Sharing Smiles CSR programme is advanced but could have been stretched further in 2014

Every time you have a mini Babybel cheese or spread Boursin on a cracker, feel good knowing that Bel Group (Bel) has a robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, Sharing Smiles. A 150-year-old French company, Bel is primarily family owned and has 30 brands of cheese sold in 130 countries. Five core brands are international: The Laughing Cow, Kiri, Leerdammer, Boursin and Mini Babybel. Bel reports in two places: its annual report (French law for annual reporting drives non-financial performance management) and the Sharing Smiles CSR report.

The 2014 CSR report demonstrates that the company is committed to CSR. Bel has many policies and initiatives and is strong on ethics, human rights and quality. The company also has a strong understanding of its environmental footprint but the report does not have any targets, a surprising omission given the company history of CSR. Bel has promised that its next report will be performance-based. That said, the 2014 report is informative and easy to read, and the design brings life to the CSR programme.

Reflecting the Sharing Smiles theme and branding, the report is fun, light in text and heavy on visuals. To make its business model and CSR policies and initiatives clear, Bel uses colourful infographics, icons, charts and tables throughout the report. This approach works especially well when discussing the Bel Ten Children’s Rights and Business Principles and Bel’s expectations of suppliers.

For the first time in 2014, Bel conducted a materiality analysis to comply with Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G4 guidelines. The explanation in the report of their materiality process and results is thorough. After engaging 85 internal and 85 external stakeholders, Bel identified eight material issues that are organised into four principal areas — commitment, industrial expertise, individual portions, trusted brands — linked by ethical business conduct.

The report begins by discussing ethical business and devotes an impressive 18 pages to the topic. Bel recognises an obligation and opportunity to develop and implement policies on lobbying, human rights, children’s rights, child labour and environmental performance. These policies address many Bel CSR issues and apply internally, as well as externally to stakeholders.

Bel believes that CSR issues should be evaluated in the same way as economic issues, returning financial value to the company and economic value to stakeholders. The report discusses “return on capital employed” and Bel’s six capitals: human, environmental, financial, intellectual, industrial, and social and societal capital. This complies with the International Integrated Reporting Council’s request to report on all forms of capital.
Product safety is central to Bel’s reputation. An important part of Bel’s governance is the CSR department, which acts as a bridge between the C-suite and employees and operations. This CSR commitment enables Bel to address food safety, quality, access and operational efficiency across the value chain.

With a global value chain, Bel reports on risk identification and mitigation. Bel applies performance measures and ratings like EcoVadis, Global Food Safety Initiative, Water Risk Filter and Human Rights Index to risks, which substantiates policies and programmes and increases transparency. Notably, this is the only part of the report that lists targets, such as a 2015 target for suppliers to average a score of 50 out of 100 from EcoVadis.

Two case studies illustrate how Bel’s value chain operates: a dairy farmer in the Netherlands and a production facility in Spain. The farmer’s story explains the partnership with Bel: how he participates in working groups and benefits from Bel’s education opportunities. The production facility in Spain, which is located in a water-stressed region, halved its water (per kilogramme of cheese) between 2012 and 2014. This is a great indicator of the industry’s potential and helpful for readers who may not know how cheese is made.

Bel has advanced its CSR programme for more than a decade but missed an opportunity with its 2014 report to shed light on the development of targets and objectives for Sharing Smiles. Nonetheless, the 2014 report demonstrates that CSR is well integrated into Bel’s business model, so the company should be held to high expectations for the 2015 report.


  • Follows GRI? Yes

  • Assured? Yes

  • Materiality analysis? Yes

  • Goals? Yes

  • Targets? No

  • Stakeholder input? Yes

  • Seeks feedback? Yes

  • Key strengths? Design

  • Chief weakness? No targets

  • Pleasant surprise? Nutrition and individual portions discussion

Robbie Lock, Consultant

CR Reporting  CR report review  Bel Group  Food  food companies 

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