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26 FEB 2013

Ten biggest food and beverage companies failing millions of people who grow their ingredients

Oxfam ranks social policies of food and beverage companies

In a new campaign called “Behind the Brands”, international agency Oxfam ranks the social policies of the ten biggest food and beverage companies and reveals that they are failing the millions of people in developing countries that they employ to grow and produce their products by having few policies and measures in addressing the social and environmental impact their operations have on producers and communities. Eighty per cent of the world’s 868 million hungry people work in food production and these companies are not taking enough responsibility for their immense influence on poor people’s lives, Oxfam urges the “Big 10” to utilise their economic, social and political clout to make a real and lasting difference to the world’s poor and hungry.

As part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign to fix the broken food system, “Behind the Brands” for the first time ranks the agricultural policies, public commitments and supply chain oversight of the “Big 10” which include Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods), Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever. According to the results, ABF (19%), Kellogg (23%) and General Mills (23%) scored most poorly while Unilever (49%) and Nestlé (54%) have higher performance. Oxfam urges the companies – that together make $1 billion a day – to take the critical next steps to create a more just food system.

“Some companies recognise the business case for sustainability and have made important commitments that deserve praise,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “But none of the ten biggest food and beverage companies are moving fast enough to turn around a 100-year legacy of relying on cheap land and labour to make mass products at huge profits, with unacceptably high social and environmental costs. No company emerges with a good overall score. Across the board, all ten companies need to do much more.” 

The ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign reveals:

• While some of the “Big 10” have publicly committed to women’s’ rights, none have committed to eliminating discrimination against women throughout their supply chains.
• None of the companies have adequate policies to protect local communities from land and water grabs, even though all of them source commodities plagued by land rights violations, such as palm oil, soy and sugar.
• All 10 companies are overly secretive about their agricultural supply chains, making their claims of ‘sustainability’ and ‘social responsibility’ difficult to verify.
• Companies are generally increasing their overall water efficiency but most have failed to put policies in place to limit their impact on local water sources. Only PepsiCo has publicly recognised water as a human right and committed to consult local communities on plans to develop water resources. Nestlé has developed guidelines for its suppliers to manage water and was ranked top for policies on water.
• All of the companies have taken steps to reduce direct emissions, but only five – Mondelez, Danone, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mars – publicly report on agricultural emissions associated with their products. Unilever alone has committed to halve its greenhouse gas footprint by 2020. None have yet developed policies to help farmers in their supply chains to build resilience to climate change.
• None have publicly committed to pay a fair price to farmers or fair business arrangements with them across all agricultural operations. Only Unilever, which is top-ranked for its dealings with small-scale farmers, has specific supplier guidelines to address some key issues faced by farmers.

“These companies control hundreds of the world’s most popular brands. Analysing their social policies is an important first step. These policies indicate a company’s intent to do good. They are ultimately how consumers and producers can begin to hold them to account.
“No brand is too big to listen to its customers. If enough people urge the big food companies to do what is right, they have no choice but to listen. By contacting companies on Twitter and Facebook or signing a petition to their CEOs (visit: ), consumers can do their part to help bring lasting change in our broken food system by showing companies that their customers expect them to operate responsibly,” said Hobbs.

The ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign will launch in more than 12 countries including the US, Mexico, China, Brazil and across Europe.

Its first public action will target Nestlé, Mondelez and Mars for their failure to address inequality faced by women who grow cocoa for their chocolate products. Today Oxfam is also releasing a brief with first-hand accounts of the inequality that women cocoa growers face. Oxfam is urging the three companies to do more to know and show how women are treated in their supply chains, create an action plan to address inequality for women in their supply chains, and engage in advocacy to influence other powerful actors to do the same.

Oxfam rated the companies on their policies on seven topics: protection of women’s rights, protection of the welfare of small-scale farmers, fair working conditions for farm workers, minimal impact on climate change, management of land use, respect for the human right to water, transparency of supply chains, policies and operations.

Oxfam has engaged with all 10 companies during the last year who have cooperated in providing data to inform this scorecard (See Appendix). The scorecard will be updated if companies change their policies.

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About Oxfam
Oxfam is dedicated to fighting poverty and inequity worldwide. The international and independent development and humanitarian organisation tackles poverty in four main ways: sustainable development in poor communities, disaster relief, local and global advocacy, and education with Hong Kong youth. Established in Hong Kong in 1976, Oxfam Hong Kong is a founding member of Oxfam, an international confederation that has assisted poor people in 94 countries. Oxfam Hong Kong alone has supported poor people in over 70 countries/regions.

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