World’s Largest Food Companies Called Out for Food Justice

Ready for a big shake-up of the world’s largest food and beverage companies?  Here it comes!  The international relief and development organization Oxfam America has launched a new global campaign called ‘Behind the Brands’. The campaign scores and ranks the agricultural policies, public commitments and supply chain oversight of Associated British Foods, Coca Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, Pepsico and Unilever.  The “Big 10” food and beverage companies together make $1 billion-a-day while failing millions of people in developing countries who supply land, labor, water and commodities needed to make their products.

Raymond C. Offenheiser, President,. Oxfam America, says, “It’s time these companies take more responsibility for their immense influence on poor people’s lives.  Eighty percent 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.”

You can download the entire report, “BEHIND THE BRANDS: Food Justice and the ‘Big 10’ Food and Beverage Companies.”  Here is the report summary — powerful stuff:

“In Pakistan, rural communities say Nestlé is bottling and selling valuable groundwater near villages that can’t afford clean water. In 2009, Kraft was accused of purchasing beef from Brazilian suppliers linked to cutting down trees in the Amazon rainforest in order to graze cattle. And today, Coca-Cola is facing allegations of child labor in its supply chain in the Philippines.

Sadly, these charges are not anomalies. For more than 100 years, the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies have relied on cheap land and labor to produce inexpensive products and huge profits. But these profits have often come at the cost of the environment and local communities around the world, and have contributed to a food system in crisis.

Today, a third of the world’s population relies on small-scale farming for their livelihoods. And while agriculture today produces more than enough food to feed everyone on earth, a third of it is wasted; more than 1.4 billion people are overweight, and almost 900 million people go to bed hungry each night.

The vast majority of the hungry are the small-scale farmers and workers who supply nutritious food to 2–3 billion people worldwide,6 with up to 60 percent of farm laborers living in poverty. At the same time, changing weather patterns due to greenhouse gas emissions – a large percentage of which come from agricultural production – are making farming an increasingly unreliable occupation.

Adding to the vulnerability of poor farmers and farm workers, food prices continue to fluctuate wildly, and demand for soy, corn, and sugar to feed affluent diets is on the rise. And to top it off, the very building blocks of the global food system – fertile land, clean water, and reliable weather – are growing scarce.

These facts are not secrets; companies also realize that agriculture has grown risky and are taking steps to guarantee future commodity supplies and to reduce social and environmental risks along their supply chains.

Today, food and beverage companies speak out against biofuels, build schools for communities and cut back on water usage in company operations. New corporate social responsibility programs are proliferating and declarations of sustainability are now ubiquitous. The CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, in fact noted in 2011, ‘It is not enough to make things that taste good. PepsiCo must also be “the good company.” It must aspire to higher values than the day-to-day business of making and selling soft drinks and snacks.’

But such claims of better environmental and social behaviour have thus far been extremely difficult to assess, despite rapidly growing consumer demand to know the truth of these claims.

Now, Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign evaluates where companies stand on policy in comparison with their peers and challenges them to begin a ‘race to the top’ to improve their social and environmental performance. By targeting specific areas for improvement along the supply chain, the campaign pinpoints policy weaknesses and will work with others to shine a spotlight on the practices of these companies

Behind the Brands is a part of the GROW campaign. Oxfam’s GROW campaign aims to build a better food system: one that sustainably feeds a growing population (estimated to reach nine billion people in 2050) and empowers poor people to earn a living, feed their families and thrive.

Oxfam’s campaign focuses on 10 of the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies – Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods), Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – and aims to increase the transparency and accountability of the ‘Big 10’ throughout the food supply chain.

At its core, the campaign features the Behind the Brands scorecard. The scorecard examines company policies in seven areas critical to sustainable agricultural production, yet historically neglected by the food and beverage industry: women, small-scale farmers, farm workers, water, land, climate change, and transparency.

According to the scorecard rankings, Nestlé and Unilever are currently performing better than the other companies, having developed and published more policies aimed at tackling social and environmental risks within their supply chains. At the other end of the spectrum, ABF and Kellogg have few policies addressing the impact of their operations on producers and communities.

Yet the scorecard also clearly shows that all of the Big 10 – including those which score the highest – have neglected to use their enormous power to help create a more just food system. In fact, in some cases these companies undermine food security and economic opportunity for the poorest people in the world, making hungry people even hungrier.

Behind the Brands reveals that the social responsibility and sustainability programs which companies have implemented to date are typically tightly focused projects to reduce water use or to train women farmers, for example. But these programs fail to address the root causes of hunger and poverty because companies lack adequate policies to guide their own supply chain operations.

Important policy gaps include:
• Companies are overly secretive about their agricultural supply chains, making claims of ‘sustainability’ and ‘social responsibility’ difficult to verify;
• None of the Big 10 have adequate policies to protect local communities from land and water grabs along their supply chains;
• Companies are not taking sufficient steps to curb massive agricultural greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate changes now affecting farmers;
• Most companies do not provide small-scale farmers with equal access to their supply chains and no company has made a commitment to ensure that small-scale producers are paid a fair price;
• Only a minority of the Big 10 are doing anything at all to address the exploitation of women small-scale farmers and workers in their supply chains.

Although the Big 10 food and beverage companies consider themselves limited by fiscal and consumer demands, they do in fact have the power to address hunger and poverty within their supply chains. Paying adequate wages to workers, a fair price to small-scale farmers, and assessing and eliminating the unfair exploitation of land, water and labor are all steps which clearly lie within the means of these hugely powerful companies.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign encourages companies to reassess ‘business as usual’ and instead begin a race to the top; a healthy competition among the Big 10 to ensure a more sustainable and just food system for all.”

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