I recently had an interesting discussion over lunch about jewelry and food safety. It took me full circle back to the BSR Conference where I often heard companies state some version of, “Our supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

My lunchtime conversation started off focused on the Food Safety Modernization Act and the important role of farm workers, the eyes and ears in the field, in preventing contamination. Surprisingly, this led us to the topic of jewelry.

Good agriculture practices typically prohibit workers from wearing jewelry—a rule that is often also applied at the processing and retail level. That made sense to me in terms of preventing physical contamination from an earring or other piece of jewelry accidentally becoming loose. The aspect I hadn’t considered was that jewelry such as rings can also harbor germs or bacteria because they can be difficult to clean thoroughly and may also inhibit effective and thorough hand washing.

Clearly proper hand washing is a critical component of safe food handling. As we spoke further, however, the larger point that emerged was that when farm workers understood why they were being asked to remove their jewelry, the proverbial light bulbs started going off, and they began to think independently and proactively about how other actions they were (or weren’t) taking might impact the food they were harvesting.

It’s not new news to those of us who work on sustainability issues that what’s often called “worker empowerment” does contribute to better business outcomes—see our Stories from the Field Report  for more examples. This conversation, however, stuck with me because it served as a reminder that at the end of the day, whether you call it worker empowerment, employee engagement, or improved dialogue, at the heart of inspiring changes in behavior is connecting with individual people and sharing why what they do matters.