Oxfam Unwrapped Christmas gifts - the best gifts can't be wrapped

Turn the page on poverty

Behind the brands

The social and environmental policies of the world’s ten biggest food and beverage giants are not fit for modern purpose and need a major shake-up.  

The Big 10 food and beverage companies – that together make $1 billion a day – are failing millions of people in developing countries who supply land, labour, water and commodities needed to make their products.

Behind the Brands – part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign to fix the broken food system – for the first time ranks the agricultural policies, public commitments and supply chain oversight of Nestlé, Coca Cola, Unilever, Pepsico, Mars, Mondelez, Associated British Foods (ABF), Danone, General Mills and Kellogg’s.

ABF (19%), Kellogg’s (23%) and General Mills (23%) scored most poorly. They have weaker policies than Coca-Cola (41%), Unilever (49%) and Nestlé (54%) for example.

“Some companies recognise the business case for sustainability and have made important commitments that deserve praise,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director for 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 labor 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, despite all of them sourcing commodities plagued by land rights violations, such as palm oil, soy and sugar. Not one company has declared “zero tolerance” against land grabs in their supply chains.

All ten companies are overly secretive about their agricultural supply chains, making their claims of sustainability and social responsibility difficult to verify. Nestlé and Unilever are most open about the countries they source from, but no company is providing enough information about their suppliers.

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 Pepsi has publicly recognised water as a human right and committed to consult local communities. 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.

“It’s time these companies take more responsibility for their immense influence on poor people’s lives,” said Hobbs. “Eighty per cent of the world’s hungry people work in food production and these companies employ millions of people in developing countries to grow their ingredients. They control hundreds of the world’s most popular brands and have the economic, social and political clout to make a real and lasting difference to the world’s poor and hungry.”

“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,” Hobbs said.
 
“No brand is too big to listen to its customers,” said Hobbs. “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 CEO, consumers can do their part to help bring lasting change in our broken food system by showing companies their customers expect them to operate responsibly.”

The Behind the Brands campaign will launch in more than 12 countries including New Zealand, 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 has written to the headquarters of these companies in Australasia urging them to respond constructively to this call. Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, said, “New Zealand consumers of these products need assurances that the food and drink they buy is produced according to acceptable standards. This must include the impact on women, small farmers, workers, land, water and the climate. It is essential that there is transparency in company practice and policy set by these international brand leaders.”

Article type: