How Are Oxfam’s Top Ten Food Companies Improving Their Impact?

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Oxfam International has never been afraid to call out big businesses by name, especially when they could be doing more in the name of sustainability...

Oxfam International has never been afraid to call out big businesses by name, especially when they could be doing more in the name of sustainability. Recently the advocacy group released Behind the Brands, the latest in a series of reports targeting the top ten food and beverage producers in the world. Among other things, this report ranks the Big Ten on the way they deal with issues like climate change, traceability, worker conditions, and more. So how did they rate, and what are they doing to improve?

10. General Mills

General Mills has been under tough scrutiny by Oxfam, scoring the lowest in Oxfam’s most recent Behind the Brands assessment at 21 percent for exceedingly low ratings in nearly every category from women’s issues to climate change policies and supply chain transparency. But General Mills has been working to improve its efforts toward corporate social responsibility over the last year, and in July the company committed to several social responsibility goals including defining targets for reducing its Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions by August 2015 and achieving zero net deforestation in high-risk areas by 2020. “Rather than stand by silently as increasingly dangerous conditions undermine its business and the food we all eat, General Mills aims to be part of the solution,” said van Zijl. “Political leaders and others in the industry should take note.”

9. Associated British Foods Plc

Associated British Foods (ABF) is one of only two companies in Oxfam’s Big Ten that did not receive a nod back in June for speaking up to support addressing the issue of climate change. Nevertheless, ABF is attempting to tackle climate change in its own way. The UK-based company’s most recent corporate responsibility report outlines several goals for environmental stewardship, including a 20 percent reduction in water consumption by 2020 and a plan to ensure that AB World Foods facilities meet zero waste to landfill site standards by 2015.

8. Kellogg Company

Kellogg Company has received admonishment from Oxfam in the past, but is making strides to respond to this increased pressure and improve its standing. In 2013 Kellogg launched its fifth official corporate responsibility report, and this month the company announced a commitment to introduce clear targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions throughout its supply chain, a promise that Oxfam has applauded. ““Kellogg’s new commitments add momentum to calls on governments and the wider food and agriculture industry to recognize that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and we need to tackle it,” said Monique van Zijl, campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign.

7. Groupe Danone S.A.

Oxfam has called out Groupe Danone, along with ABF and PepsiCo, for failing to commit to zero deforestation in its palm oil supply chain as well as failing to speak up against climate change. Oxfam also called out the global dairy company for poor handling of women’s issues in agricultural production. Still, Danone did get praise for CEO Frank Riboud joining Oxfam and most of the Big Ten in asking global leaders to make progress on taking action against climate change. Danone has reportedly also made progress in supply chain transparency and water conservancy.

6. Mars, Incorporated

According to Oxfam’s report, privately owned Mars Incorporated has received negative marks for its suppliers’ poor use of land and water. On the plus side, Oxfam praised Mars for putting a proactive timeline in place to eliminate deforestation in its supply chain, and for advocating action against climate change. The company is also making efforts to improve its own operations through its Sustainable in a Generation program, a part of its 2013 corporate responsibility report that aims to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

5. Mondelez International

Oxfam’s review of Mondelez International has been conservatively positive, noting the manufacturing brand’s steps in the right direction regarding deforestation policies, recognition of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a commitment to annually reporting and disclosing its own agricultural emissions. While Mondelez still has a ways to go, the company has further set sustainability goals which aim to reduce its energy and water usage by 15 percent, eliminate 50 million lbs of packaging material, and convert 60 percent of production to Zero Waste to Landfill sites by 2015.

4. PepsiCo

Oxfam criticizes PepsiCo extensively in multiple reports, calling out the brand for a poor palm oil policy and poor grades in human issues along its supply chain, from farmers to field and factory workers (especially women). But on the other hand, the brand is improving in areas like environmental impact, making plans to cut its emissions and committing to disclosing its emissions progress annually.

3. The Coca-Cola Company

Oxfam commended Coca-Cola for its commitment to emissions disclosure and future goals such as a target of 25 percent emissions reduction, as well as its engagement with some more progressive business organizations like Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) while distancing itself from regressive views on climate change held by organizations like Business Europe. Even so, Oxfam is still recommending that Coca-Cola use its massive amount of influence to go farther with its policies.

2. Unilever Group

Unilever is no stranger to taking a strong progressive stance on environmental campaigns. Unilever CEO Paul Polman has spoken repeatedly about the necessity of a sustainable system and, where Coca-Cola distanced itself from Business Europe’s climate change stance, Unilever withdrew its affiliation with the organization entirely. While the company still has work to do regarding some issues like land use, Unilever has also scored points with Oxfam for continuing to improve traceability and supporting its workers throughout the supply chain.

1. Nestle S.A.

Nestle SA ranked first place on Oxfam’s Behind the Brands scorecard, with the highest score out of all ten brands regarding its commitment to taking action on climate change issues. What’s more, the company is actively working to improve its operations: in July Nestle UK and Ireland committed to improving sustainability throughout its dairy supply chain, and just this week Nestle announced sweeping policy changes throughout its supply chain in an effort to promote a better standard of animal welfare.

Still, even at the top there is room to improve – ranking aside, Nestle only achieved a score of 64 percent after all. Oxfam has suggested that Nestle work on strengthening its traceability and developing a more unified companywide position regarding climate change and sustainability. 


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