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.


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