Oxfam targets global big 10 food companies for social responsibility

The international charitable organization Oxfam has published a report scorecarding the top 10 international food companies for their social responsibility initiatives. The report, Behind the Brands, finds that “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.”

The report focuses its attention on Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez Internatonal (previously Kraft Foods), Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.

The findings 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
  • Policies fail to protect communities’ rights to water
  • Companies are not taking sufficient steps to curb the 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

Oxfam recommends that food and beverage companies:

  1. Recognize responsibility for all significant social and environmental impacts of agricultural production within the supply chain.
  2. Assess the number and gender of small-scale farmers and workers currently in the supply chain.
  3. Assess the number and role of women involved in the supply chain as farmers or workers and the issues they are facing.
  4. Develop targets for including small-scale farmers in the supply chain
  5. Recognize and promote the human right to water, as defined by the United Nations.
  6. Declare and implement zero tolerance for land grabbing and water grabbing.
  7. Establish supply chain standards and policies which ensure that agricultural supply chains meet international labor standards established under International Labor Organization Conventions.
  8. Disclose agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in company supply chains and set targets to achieve deep absolute reductions in emissions from large-scale producers.
  9. Use political and economic power to influence government policies and change industry practices.
  10. Use convening power to promote collective solutions to systemic problems in the industry.

Among the recommendations for consumers:

  1. Learn more about the Behind the Brands campaign at behindthebrands.org, and invite friends and family to get involved by sharing information through social media.
  2. Take action on issues by contacting the companies directly to urge them to provide better conditions for small-scale farmers and workers in their supply chains.
  3. Make changes in how they buy and consume food. Oxfam’s GROW Method suggests five easy ways to make a difference: reducing food waste, so we’re making the most of the precious resources that go into making food; buying products and brands that ensure small-scale producers in developing countries get a fair deal; cooking smart, to cut down on wasted water and energy; buying food that’s in season, so cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions; eating less meat and dairy to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
  4. Join the GROW campaign and take action with hundreds of thousands of other concerned citizens to urge governments, companies and other powerful institutions to play their part in creating a more just food system.

The 39 page report also contains recommendations for governments.

The report, a scorecard of company performance, a summary, a briefing, and other materials are available at http://www.oxfam.ca/grow/act/behind-the-brands. The campaign, urging companies and consumers to start with the poor conditions of women in harvesting of cacao beans for chocolate, is at http://www.behindthebrands.org. The Oxfam GROW campaign is at http://www.oxfam.ca/grow.


Reduced labour productivity in warm climates from increased heat stress

While not so much of a challenge in Canada, a new study from United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists indicates that labour productivity in mid-latitude and tropical regions is likely to decrease by a further 10% by 2050 as a result of heat stress induced by climate change. The study finds that heat stress has already reduced productivity by 10% over the past few decades, so the cumulative effective may be as much as a 20% reduction in human productivity from climate change.

In peak months, labour capacity may fall to less than 40% of past levels by 2200 in tropical and mid-latitudes as a result of extreme climatological heat stress. The authors acknowledge that many uncertainties accompany these projections.

For industry, particularly industries with plants located in tropical and sub-tropical areas, this research suggests that planning to reduce the impact of hotter and more humid weather on workers should become part of productivity plans. One of the challenges is that periods of significantly increased heat stress will be intermittent and unpredictable in the timeframe of production planning. Fully meeting tight production deadlines in manufacturing operations in the summer months may become more difficult unless improved ventilation and/or air conditioning is installed in manufacturing plants.,

The study (pay) and an abstract (free) are available at http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1827.html.

A NOAA summary is at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2013/20130225_laborandclimate.html

Greening the Oscars

After days, if not weeks, of observing tons of media coverage, much of it banal to a greater or lesser extent, reporting on the Oscars is hardly something that fills GallonDaily’s editor with enthusiasm. However, we think it is important for our readers to know that the Oscars are going green. If the Oscars can do it, are there any events that cannot?

The Oscars are being assisted by the New York City based Natural Resources Defense Council, a well-respected ngo. NRDC states that the commitment to the green cause by the Motion Picture Academy has never wavered since the program was started in 2007. In 2013 the new ecological initiatives covered energy, waste management, paper products and food.

On energy, the Academy purchased renewable energy credits to cover electricity use, used hydrogen fuel cells and biodiesel blend liquid fuels, replaced backup generators with large uninterruptible power supplies, reduced fuel use, and replaced all theatre lighting with compact fluorescents and LEDs.

The famous red carpet is made from 100% recycled material and will be reused for next year. 70% of non-food waste is to be reused or recycled. Disposable water bottles have been eliminated from backstage and office areas and recycling bins have been placed in appropriate locations.

Paper used for every aspects of the Oscars, from invitations to bathrooms, contains recycled fibre and paper use reductions have been implemented. The Governors’ Ball served local produce and certified seafood. Prepared unused food was donated to a local charity for the poor. Floral arrangements were donated or composted.

A factsheet documents a long list of environmental initiatives implemented at the 2008 Academy Awards. Many more initiatives have come in each subsequent year, with the bar being raised each year.

As we stated above, if the Academy Awards can do it, is there any large event that can legitimately claim that green is not possible?

The NRDC account of greening the Oscars is at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ahershkowitz/backstage_at_the_oscars_the_en.html

The 2008 list of Academy Award Green Achievements is at http://www.nrdc.org/greenthis/oscars/achievements_08.pdf


China announces aggressive 5 year environment plan

Hit by severe urban air pollution and a range of negative environmental reports, the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China has recently made several announcements regarding the 12th Five-Year National Plan for Environmental Protection, a plan which covers the period to the end of 2015. The total environmental investments expected under the plan total about 3.4 trillion yuan ($558 billion CDN), about 1.4% of GDP over the same period.

The Plan covers almost all aspects of environmental protection, including:

  • significant reduction of total discharge of major pollutants;
  • environmental safety of drinking water source areas and water quality;
  • control of heavy metal pollution;
  • control of pollution by POPs, hazardous chemicals and waste;
  • improvement of construction and operation of urban environmental infrastructure; and
  • enhancement of capacity in supervision of nuclear and radiation safety.

Progress under the Plan will be measured through improvements to environmental indicators and through comprehensive assessments at the mid-point and end of the plan.

Further details, in English, are available at http://english.mep.gov.cn/News_service/infocus/201202/t20120207_223194.htm and at


Summary details of each of the 85 initiatives, including assignment of governmental responsibilities and the industry sectors targetted, are at http://english.mep.gov.cn/News_service/infocus/201211/t20121115_242096.htm

US poll suggests GHG regulations more likely than carbon taxes or cap and trade

Statements from the President regarding climate change action have US pollsters scrambling to test public opinion on the topic. Results are mixed, though of the poll results that GallonDaily has seen most appear to show a majority of Americans, in the range of 60 – 65%, will support action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most interesting recent polls comes from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Conducted in mid-January, the poll finds that the percentage of Americans who believe that the climate is changing is at its highest level since 2006.

Perhaps more interesting to business is the finding that 64% of Americans strongly or somewhat favor regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and cars and requiring utilities to generate more power from “clean” low-carbon sources.  Only 29 percent strongly or somewhat support a carbon tax.  Support for a cap and trade program is also low.

If results are similar in Canada, or if the Canadian government eventually decides to follow a US lead, this may signal that greenhouse gas regulations are more likely than either a cap and trade program or a carbon tax. That may not be good news for industry. With public support for action on climate change likely to increase as evidence grows, perhaps it is time for industry to explore an exit strategy from the  climate denial movement and a new initiative to encourage public support for economic instruments that have less financial impact on industry than typical regulations.

A press release, the poll results (top line only), and a 6 page policy brief are available at http://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/pages/poll-americans-back-climate-change-regulation-not-taxes


Ban Ki-moon urges governments to adopt green strategies

United Nations Secretary-General told the UN Environment Programme “When the environment is neglected, poverty and instability follow.  When it is nurtured, well-being and prosperity flourish.”  He urged ministers present at the meeting “You have a responsibility to articulate these truths and to help craft the policies and programmes that will benefit all people – and especially those most at risk from environmental degradation and climate change.”

At the same meeting four UN agencies launched a new Green Economy initiative, designed to support 30 countries over the next seven years to build green economy strategies that will generate jobs, promote clean technologies and reduce environmental risk. The initiative, known as the Partnership for Action on Green Economy, will work with countries to catalyze change at the national level, assisting  them with targeted economic and policy instruments and training that will accelerate their green economy transition across sectors ranging from clean energy to sustainable agriculture. The participating countries have not yet been named. The initiative is one of the outcomes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held last year.

The full text of the Secretary-General’s message is available at http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=6610 with a UN press release at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44172&Cr=environment&Cr1=human+rights#.USYgf6L4WSo

The release announcing the Partnership for Action on Green Economy is at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44169&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1=#.USYi_aL4WSp with a UN Green Economy website at http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/


Ontario Throne Speech is environmentally disappointing

When the Ontario Liberal Party selected Kathleen Wynne as the next Premier of the Province just a month ago there was already concern that environment and a greener economy did not appear to be high on her agenda. Yesterday’s Throne Speech, intended to be a document which lays out a government’s legislative, regulatory, and policy agenda for the next session of Parliament, seems to confirm that concern.  With the exception of energy conservation and reiteration, for the umpteenth time, of the government’s intention to phase out coal-fired electricity, the environment was almost completely absent. Apparently the ‘new government’ either thinks that environmental conditions in Ontario are acceptable or that the citizens of Ontario no longer care about the environment. In GallonDaily’s opinion the Liberal government has just handed the Green Party of Ontario a huge opportunity to win seats in the next provincial election.

The word ‘pollution’ does not appear in the 14 page Speech from the Throne and the word ‘environment’ is only used in the context of protecting ‘the beauty of our natural environment’ and reduction of  daily commute times which will reduce the impact [of commuting] on our climate and natural environment. GallonDaily does not understand how reducing commute times reduces the impact of commuting on the environment, unless people are required to move closer to their place of work or learning, which seems an unlikely proposal.

The only environmentally-related agenda items that GallonDaily could find in the Speech, far fewer than in most recent Throne Speeches, are the following:

  • your government will continue to assert Ontario’s pride of place in the realms of manufacturing, financial services, tourism, forestry and natural resource development.
  • because conservation is the cheapest source of energy available, Ontario will continue to be a leader in smart-grid technology and energy conservation, and see the creation of new-economy jobs through the deployment of leading energy efficiency technologies in our homes and our businesses.
  • [the government] will celebrate our hard work, our ingenuity, our diversity, our arts and culture, and protect the beauty of our natural environment.

At the closing of the Speech from the Throne the government wrote:

  • Your government believes all things are possible.

GallonDaily suggests that such an aspiration is only true if the environment is protected. Otherwise continuation of the social and economic well-being of all Ontarians becomes impossible.

The Ontario Speech from the Throne can be found at http://www.premier.gov.on.ca/news/thronespeech.php?Lang=EN

Global fertilizer issues need to be solved, according to UNEP report

A newly published report, commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme, states that humans have massively altered the natural flows of nutrients (substances which fertilize plant materials on land and in the oceans) and that urgent steps must be taken to reverse the resulting water and air pollution.

Subtitled ‘The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution’, the report ‘Our Nutrient World’ concludes that:

  • we have excessive use of nutrients in some regions and insufficient use in others.
  • everyone stands to benefit from nutrients and that everyone can make a contribution to promote sustainable production and use of nutrients.
  • without swift and collective action, the next generation will inherit a world where many millions may suffer from food insecurity caused by too few nutrients, where the nutrient pollution threats from too much will become more extreme, and where unsustainable use of nutrients will contribute even more to biodiversity loss and accelerating climate change.
  • with more sustainable management of nutrients, economies can play a role in a transition to a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.


Much of the report focuses on nitrogen and phosphorous nutrients, though nutrients of all types are also addressed. The authors urge

  • establishment of a global assessment process for nutrients.
  • development of an international  consensus on the operational indicators to record progress on improving nutrient use efficiency and reducing the adverse environmental impacts.
  • further investigation of options for improvement of nutrient use efficiency.
  • establishment of internationally agreed targets for improved N and P management.
  • quantification of the multiple benefits of meeting nutrient targets.

For individuals, the report recommends use of a tool, N-PRINT, to which a link is provided, to calculate an individual’s nitrogen footprint. Choices can then be made to help reduce our individual nitrogen footprint. According to the report a typical US resident has a nitrogen footprint nearly twice that of a Netherlands resident.

The report leaves open the question of whether such an international policy framework should focus on voluntary and aspirational agreements or should eventually develop legally binding commitments.

The 108 page report ‘Our Nutrient World’ is available at http://www.gpa.unep.org/gpnm

Survey shows US consumers get the sustainable seafood message

While a debate rages among ocean environmentalists regarding the merits of Marine Stewardship Council certification of sustainable seafood (see Gallon Environment Letter later this month for our take on this debate), a poll conducted by Truven Health Analytics for National Public Radio in the US suggests that many people are aware of the threats to fish stocks and are eager to switch their seafood purchasing to products that are from certified sustainable sources.

The poll found that more than 60% of respondents say that they eat seafood more than twice each month. Frequency of eating seafood seems to increase somewhat with income and level of education. More than 75% of respondents stated that it is important or very important that the seafood they buy comes from sustainable fisheries and 60% state that they will preferentially purchase sustainably caught seafood. Almost 50% state that they are willing to pay at least 10% more for seafood labeled as sustainably caught.

Much more detail is contained in the Executive Summary of the poll results which can be found at http://media.npr.org/documents/2013/feb/sustainablefishing.pdf

An NPR assessment of the results is at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/11/171743185/most-americans-eager-to-buy-seafood-thats-sustainable

GallonDaily notes that polls of consumer habits in greener purchasing are frequently somewhat inconsistent with actual practices. People tend to respond on the basis of what they perceive to be community expectations rather than on the basis of their actual behaviour. However, there are few publicly accessible mechanisms for evaluating consumer attitudes towards greener products so we consider that poll data are still a useful tool.

Readers sometimes ask us why we present more US than Canadian poll results. There are two main reasons:

  • the primary mandate of GallonDaily is to present environmental news and information that is relevant to Canadian business but not generally available in the Canadian media.
  • there are many more environment and sustainable development polls conducted and published in the US than in Canada.

If Canadian sponsors of polls would like to provide results of environment and sustainable development polls to GallonDaily we would be pleased to consider publishing more Canadian results. Until that happens we will generally leave it to our Canadian readers to decide whether US poll results are likely to be applicable to the Canadian situation. GallonDaily’s editor can be reached at editor (at) gallonletter.ca [replace (at) with @].

US EPA releases major chemicals in commerce database

The US Environmental Protection Agency this week released a large database of information on the use of chemicals in commerce. Known as the Chemical Data Reporting information, the database includes non-confidential information on chemicals manufactured or imported into the US in volumes of 25,000lbs or more at a single site during 2011. It also includes data on industrial processing and consumer and commercial uses of certain chemicals listed on the Toxic Substances Control Act inventory.

The database includes information from 1,515 companies at 4,753 sites on 7,674 chemicals. In addition to reporting on a chemical’s industrial, commercial and consumer product uses the database also indicates whether the substance is used in children’s products. Reporters are also required to identify whether a chemical was recycled, remanufactured, reprocessed, or reused.

The database is simple to use but the search results require careful analysis. At GallonDaily we are still working to find our way around the various parts of the database. Interpretation is made somewhat more complex by the fact that some information is maintained as confidential. EPA requires submitters to provide justification for all information that they wish to designate as Confidential Business Information.

Despite these limitations, the CDR system provides useful information on the utilization and fate of many of the chemicals used by industry in the US. The database and all the supporting information can be accessed in several ways but the best starting point is probably at http://www.epa.gov/oppt/cdr/index.html