Steenbergs Business Social and Ethical Principles

Steenbergs Limited (“Steenbergs”) is a small family-owned business, founded and run by a husband and wife team from their rural spice godown in Ripon, North Yorkshire, England. 

In 2003, Axel and Sophie Steenberg set out to run a different type of spices business that seeks to bring the best quality and really interesting ingredients from around the world, and for those products to be grown and processed with a minimal impact on the global environment, grown (wherever practicable) under organic agriculture, and to be in everything we do fair, reasonable and respectful with all the people we deal with. 

And whilst doing this make some money and have loads and loads of fun, laughs and smiles. 

Since then, we have expanded our product offerings to include a wide range of things that green and environmentally minded people might want.

From a theoretical perspective, this means we seek to follow the concept of the triple bottom line concept (“TBL” or “3BL” or “the three pillars”) which means we think about “people, planet, profit” in our business dealings, rather than just to be in it for a quick buck for ourselves.  The triple bottom line ideal is a better way to run a business, being a virtuous circle of slow but constant improvement in our business operations and the impact we have as a business on the world environment and people within Steenbergs and those who become involved with us as supplier, buyers or just interested people.

In this section, we have sought to explain in greater detail much of the thinking that has gone into the way we run Steenbergs now and where we still need to improve ourselves.  We have set it out as Questions and Answers, so should you have any extra questions that we need to address, please email or ring in with them and we will try and answer them.


Have your company’s actions or operations resulted in economic or social impacts that have adversely affected the quality of life in a community, such as over-burden on local infrastructure or wide-scale terminations of employment?

No.  Steenbergs is a micro-business with less than 10 employees and sales of less than £1 million, so we cannot envisage that our actions would have any adverse impact on a community. The European Commission defines a micro-enterprise as an enterprise which employs fewer than 10 persons and whose annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total does not exceed EUR 2 million (Commission Recommendation 2003/361/EC of 6 May 2003).

Does your company have a policy to source goods and services from local suppliers?

No.  We use local, small businesses for many of our services, such as information technology, environmental services, laboratory testing, however since our core business is sourcing and processing ingredients that come predominantly from the developing world, we do not believe that local sourcing is a practicable policy for Steenbergs.

Does your company invest in, directly participate in, or otherwise support, any education in the community?

Not directly.  Steenbergs does not have the business size or profitability to be able to invest in education in the community.  However, we do train our members of staff in all key aspects of their jobs and health and safety, as well as making teaching for National Vocational Qualifications in food processing available to staff.  Indirectly, Steenbergs does also support education through its involvement with The Fairtrade Foundation and FLO-Cert GmbH, which explicitly has education as one of its social goals.

Does your company promote social inclusion?

Not directly.  Steenbergs is a micro-business that cannot directly operate a policy of social inclusion, however we operate in the community, and through providing employment to seven members of staff (excluding Axel and Sophie Steenberg) and training, we do in a small way address unemployment, poor educational attainment and low income.  Similarly, we would not do anything that would negatively impact individuals or communities to foster ill health, crime, poor housing or local environment.  Globally we have a Human Rights Policy that more than meets the requirements ofThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so we seek through all our business interactions to prevent social exclusion wherever we could be considered a stakeholder, whether it is a growers’ group in rural Kerala or a glassware manufacturer in Germany.

Corporate governance

Does your company have a corporate governance statement appropriate to the organisation?


Is your company’s average employee salary at least 5% of the total remuneration of your highest paid executive?

Yes.  Neither Axel Steenberg nor Sophie Steenberg is the highest paid employee within Steenbergs and furthermore no-one at Steenbergs earns a salary that equals the median or mean average UK gross salary.

Donations and payments

Does your company take a strategic approach to charitable giving?

No.  Steenbergs has a largely ad hoc approach to charitable giving and does not set percentages of profits or sales that must be paid to charities.  At the stage of financial development of our business, this would not be appropriate.  Steenbergs does, however, have a range of products of bagged teas (Peace Tea and Green Tea) that commits to pay 10% of profits from the sale of those profits to charities or to invest in social programs in the developing world; currently, this results in modest amounts of donations to Practical Action every year.

Does your company make payments to secure business?

Steenbergs does not condone or get involved in any form of bribery or upfront payments to secure business.  We openly disclose our views on bribery clearly within our submissions to SEDEX, an online method of storing and making available a business's views on ethical and responsible business practices.

Does you company have policies or practices to prevent undue influence of appointed or elected public officials?

No.  Steenbergs is a very small business that does not have the ability, or interest, in seeking to influence appointed or elected public officials.  Furthermore, Steenbergs makes no donations to any political party or politically motivated organisation.

Has your company paid appropriate levels of tax over the last two years?

Yes.  All PAYE and VAT is recorded accurately and paid correctly within the legal time limits and there are no tax schemes in place to reduce the tax paid by directors or employees of Steenbergs.  Currently, Steenbergs pays no corporation tax due to accumulated tax losses in its first years of operation, however we have no tax schemes in place that will prevent Steenbergs from paying appropriate levels of tax when the tax losses have been fully utilised.


Does you company have an environmental policy?

Yes (see corporate web site for Environmental Policy).  Overall, Steenbergs follows the triple bottom line concept whereby we seek to operate profitably while considering other stakeholders in our business, such as our staff, local communities and the staff and communities of our suppliers, as well as our customers and their expectations and to look after the planet.  In fact, Axel Steenberg decided that he really did not know enough about mankind's impact on the environment, so he has gone back to school and is now studying at The Open University for a degree in Environmental Studies (or Environmental Science, as he is still to decide which way he will take the initial course modules).  We openly disclose our views on environmental policy clearly within our submissions to SEDEX, an online method of storing and making available a business's views on ethical and responsible business practices.

Does your company engage in commercial activities that pose a threat to endangered species and their natural habitats or to other scarce resources?

No.  None of our raw materials is grown via intensive farming and most are certified to organic agriculture.

Do any of Steenbergs products contain endangered wildlife products, e.g. ivory, tortoiseshell, coral, whale products, mollusc shells?


Are environmental considerations an integral part of any of your company’s product designs or services?

Yes.  Wherever possible, we choose the more environmentally friendly options for our product areas and are always seeking to improve on the environmental burden of our products.  It does not mean unfortunately that we can actually always have the best packaging products or services from an environmental perspective, since Steenbergs is not able to finance the costs of purchasing many of the best things available – for example, we looked into improving the environmental footprint of our stock labels, but were told that not only was the cost higher but we would need to commit to ordering at least 1 million labels at a time, which would be 25 years stock!  What we can do, however, is provide alternative solutions that are more appropriate for some customers, for example in 2010 we have now introduced new refill and bulk options for our organic spices, herbs and teas.  I will try and explain our packaging philosophy in more detail soon.

Has Steenbergs incoporated any special environmental features into its workspace?

Steenbergs is a food factory on a business park so much of what we work in is classic steel fabricated building with wipe clean walls that meet food safety and quality requirements.  That having been said we did include as many "green" things into the other areas as possible.  For example, we have low water flush toilets, water comes from a potable bore hole rather than the mains, waste water is treated using natural reed bed process treatment (see photo above), linoleum and zero carbon flooring in office and changing areas, newspaper based insulation in the administration areas.  For more details on our building, see our corporate web site.  

Are any of your company’s products or services environmentally certified (either organic or other third party scheme)?

Since our establishment in October 2003, Steenbergs has been certified as organic by the Organic Food Federation, GB Certification 4, with registration number 00595/000/03 and are subject to annual audit.  We have, also, been registered with The Fairtrade Foundation in the UK since May 2004 with FLO id 2984 and are subject to third party audit.  We are not accredited to other environmental standards, e.g. ISO14001, or social standards, e.g. SA8000, because we believe that our organic certification and Fairtrade registration, together with our business philosophy, are sufficient for a micro-business like Steenbergs.

Are any of the products wild harvested?

Some of our raw materials are wild harvested, e.g. organic juniper berries, and (in addition to normal organic standards) their collection is required to meet stringent rules on levels of harvest collected and other factors as laid down by organic certification bodies, including (but not limited to) whether the wild harvesting would fall foul of the requirements of CITES or whether the species is listed on the IUCN red list.

Are any of your products grown or propagated using a non-renewable natural resource, e.g. peat?


Does your company set targets to reduce “scope 1 and 2” carbon dioxide emissions?

Steenbergs’ scope 1 and scope 2 carbon dioxide emissions are zero, since we are a low energy user and all our direct energy is provided by Good Energy; most of our activities are undertaken by hand – blending, filling and labelling.  Steenbergs seeks to minimise its scope 3 carbon dioxide emissions through choosing, wherever possible, lowest carbon cost products and services, e.g. recycled paper in the office (EP4 paper from M-real whose mill meets ISO14001), green telephony provider (DialGreen which meets IS014001), green web hosting provider (1&1 Internet) and consolidated transport rather our own transport using distributors that have a sensible environmental policy (FedEx, Interlink, Palletline and Royal Mail).  We keep down the use of air transport for our products with only organic saffron and organic vanilla pods coming in via air freight – we simply cannot afford to buy pallets of these products which would cost £3 million for organic saffron and £75,000 for the organic vanilla before transport costs at current costs (January 2010).  Our biggest area of uncontrollable carbon cost is in the embedded cost of Steenbergs packaging; we are constantly trying to get a fuller picture as to the embedded carbon cost but our suppliers are either unwilling or unable to answer our questions on these, but every year we get closer to the necessary detail on this – I have worked out theoretical costs for glass, paper, corrugated board but still have not got data for the tin lid costs.

Does your company offset its carbon dioxide emissions?

Yes, with J. P. Morgan Climatecare over the last few years. See our web pages on carbon offsetting at Steenbergs for more details.

Does your company have any involvement with nuclear power or the wider nuclear industry?

No.  Our energy is provided by Good Energy.

Does your company have a strategy for waste management and minimisation?

Steenbergs minimises the amount of packaging waste that it generates.  Wherever possible we reuse packaging and wasted paper (e.g. from unwanted faxes!), using emails and the internet for most formal communications rather than letters.  Steenbergs recycles waste paper, broken glassware and metal, plastics, corrugated board and other board packaging.

Do your company’s environmental policies extend to suppliers and contractors?

No, we are not in a position to require our suppliers to sign up to our internal environmental practices, however we check that they do.  Our review process is undertaken through desktop analysis of answers to our own internal self assessment questionnaire which covers environmental and other aspects.  In addition, all our suppliers are organic certified within EC regulations and many of them are also registered and audited to Fairtrade standards either in the UK or internationally through FLO-Cert GmbH.  These regulations and standards require that our suppliers meet high levels of environmental practices and are subject to third party audit.

Has your company been subject to public complaint or investigation concerning pollution or other environmental damage?

No, nor does Steenbergs use any cleaning or other products that is likely to cause any pollution or environmental damage or is considered to be a hazardous chemical.

Does your company trade in or otherwise use genetically modified organisms (“GMO”)?

No and we have a policy that obliges the company never to be knowingly involved with GMO.  Furthermore, Steenbergs has set organic agriculture and processing at the heart of its business operations.  Steenbergs has been certified as organic with the Organic Food Federation, GB Certification 4, since our establishment in October 2003 and over 95% of sales income is generated from organic-certified products.

Human rights

Does your company have a policy to ensure that neither company nor its suppliers or contractors use forced, bonded or child labour?

Yes (see Steenbergs Ethical Policy).  Furthermore, wherever possible Steenbergs works directly with farmers’ co-operatives, workers’ co-operatives and The Fairtrade Foundation and FLO-Cert GmbH registered growers, processors and traders. We purchase our non-Steenbergs products from SUMA (a workers’ co-operative) or Tree of Life (the world’s largest health store supplier).  We openly disclose our views on looking after our people clearly within our submissions to SEDEX, an online method of storing and making available a business's views on ethical and responsible business practices.

In the areas of proposed or current operations, does your company respect the human rights, land, culture and intellectual property of tribal and indigenous peoples?

Yes, we always respect everybody’s human rights and treat everyone fairly and reasonably – it’s part of our fundamental business ethics to be respectful and fair to everyone.  We do not at any level promote or allow sweatshop labour, suppression of union activity, enforced overtime, indentured labour or enforced child labour (small farmers are permitted to use children within family to be involved in farming so long as they also meet the requirements of FLO-Cert and The Fairtrade Foundation).

Is your company in joint ventures, or does it have any business relationships, with a military regime (such as that in Burma, also known as Myanmar)?


Does your company engage with the arms trade or the arms industry?


If your company operates in a conflict area, does it take steps to ensure that business operations do not contribute to tensions?

Steenbergs does not operate in any areas where there is conflict.  Steenbergs might at times purchase products that are ultimately grown in areas where there is conflict, however we do not believe that our trade has any negative impact on tensions within any of the areas that it ultimately purchases its raw materials from, rather we believe that by supporting agriculture and basic industries in any area where there might be conflict we are helping the ordinary people in those areas.

Marketplace ethics

Does your company make every effort to ensure customers receive a fair and reasonable deal in terms of quality, safety and service in all its products and services?


Do your product labels provide relevant, accurate, unambiguous and easily-accessible information?

Yes.  Our products are not complex so we keep it simple and show clearly the name of the product, plus origin, best before, weight and ingredients.  We also clearly show who we are and how you can contact us should there be any problems or complaints.

Have complaints been made against your company to regulatory and/or professional bodies that oversee advertising practices?


Has your company, or representative association, pushed for protection against imports from developing countries?

No.  Most of Steenbergs raw materials and some of its packaging materials derive from developing world countries.

Does your company have a policy to support fair trade?

Yes and in addition Steenbergs has traded in and packaged products, such as tea, spices and sugar, that are certified as Fairtrade by The Fairtrade Foundation and FLO-Cert GmbH since May 2004.

Does your company participate, directly or indirectly, in animal testing or other forms of animal exploitaion?



Has your company implemented a strategy for promoting health and safety at work?

Yes.  Health and safety is reviewed at least annually by a designated member of staff, who has been trained to National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health Level 3.  Results of the complete risk review are discussed with the directors (Axel and Sophie Steenberg) and any changes needed to meet best practice are implemented.  In addition, all staff are trained in all aspects of health and safety relevant to the business on a regular (at least annual) basis.   We openly disclose our views on looking after our people clearly within our submissions to SEDEX, an online method of storing and making available a business's views on ethical and responsible business practices.

Does your company consider and monitor the race, gender, disability and age of its workforce in recruitment, training and management practices?

As a micro-business, Steenbergs does not formally monitor race, gender, disability and age of its workforce, but it does not discriminate in any form.  We do have an Equal Opportunities Policy, which we adhere to.  Of our staff of 9, 2 are male and 7 are female, with the senior team comprising 1 man (Axel Steenberg) and 2 women (including Sophie Steenberg).  The age of our workforce includes a range from 22 years old to 59 years old, where the 22 year old was hired at 18 years old.  Staff are predominantly British, but we have 1 Polish employee; in fact, since Agnieska Byckowska started with us in 2006 she has grown into one of our key members of staff and is now in charge of picking and dispatching all Internet and retailer orders and her english is fluent Yorkshire english!  We openly disclose our views on looking after our people clearly within our submissions to SEDEX, an online method of storing and making available a business's views on ethical and responsible business practices.

Does your company consult and cooperate with employees or employee representatives, including allowing employees to be represented by trade unions or other workers’ groups?

As a micro-business, we co-operate and consult directly with all our employees on a regular basis, rather than having formal representation by trade unions or other workers’ groups.

Does your company invest in staff training and lifelong learning?

All our staff are trained based on a programme of the company’s overall needs to meet our business requirements.  We then discuss which members of staff can be trained in particular areas to enable them to develop, plus we try to widen the scope and level of training available every year.  For example, we offer, and have provided, external training for National Vocational Training Level 2 Food & Drink Manufacturing Operations, as well as Food Safety qualifications.

Has your company developed accessible work-life balance options that provide flexible working patterns for employees?

Yes, of our staff 4 work flexible working patterns.  In particular, we are flexible around school holidays, allowing staff to work different days/hours especially in the summer holidays.

Does your company have a policy or arrangement in place, such as flexible working or paid leave, that allows for carers to balance work with their care responsibilities?

We allow staff to take time off (with no upper limit) or change their working patterns to undertake short term care within their immediate families.

Do you consider the workplace ethics of your suppliers?

Almost all of our raw materials suppliers are certified organic and many are involved directly with the Fairtrademovement, with many of them also certified to other international standards for environment, training and social responsibility.  In addition, we require suppliers of raw materials and packaging materials to complete self-assessment questionnaires which cover these human capital issues, which we review for issues before suppliers can become approved as suppliers to Steenbergs.  We purchase our non-Steenbergs products from SUMA (a workers’ co-operative) or Tree of Life (the world’s largest health store supplier).