Oxfam: World’s biggest food companies must ‘walk the talk’ on sustainability

"The global food system remains broken," said Oxfam, although it notes increased willingness to tackle social and environmental issues among the top 10 food firms

Eight of the 10 biggest multinational food companies have improved their food security and sustainability policies over the past year – but all must do more to put their commitments into practice, says Oxfam’s latest Behind the Brands report.

Unilever has passed Nestlé to take the top spot on the NGO’s scorecard, which ranks the sustainability initiatives of ten of the world’s biggest food and drink companies, including Danone, Mondelez, Coca-Cola, Mars, Kellogg’s, General Mills, ABF and PepsiCo. All fared poorly in its original 2013 report, when Nestlé topped the list with a score of 38/70 in seven categories: Treatment of workers, women, farmers, land, water, and climate, as well as a grade for overall transparency.

Moving in the right direction

This year, Nestlé reached 48/70 and was recognised for its efforts on land rights and a commitment to improve women’s rights in its cocoa business. Unilever came out top with a score of 50/70 after publishing a new responsible sourcing policy.

Oxfam noted that both companies were close in score and “way ahead of the rest”.

“After two years of sustained pressure from the hundreds of thousands of Oxfam supporters, the “Big 10” are definitely moving in the right direction,” said Monique van Zijl, international campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign. “However, the real challenge has just begun. Companies now need to start putting new policy commitments into practice. Only then will real change happen for the millions of small farmers and agricultural workers. It is high time for companies to walk the talk.”

Danone scores a ‘pitiful’ 1/10 on gender

Danone was singled out as it dropped down the scorecard from 6th to joint 8th position and an unchanged score of 22/70. On the theme of gender, it scored just one out of 10 – the lowest score of any company for any category. Oxfam called it “a pitiful score and one worthy of some self-reflection in Danone’s headquarters”.

No one at Danone responded to a request for comment prior to publication.

Although some companies had improved their scores over the past two years, Oxfam said all of the top 10 food firms had more work to do.

“The Big 10 seem more willing to tackle the big social and environmental issues within their supply chains,” it said. “…All of them still have a long way to go to ensure that their commitments are implemented.”

Oxfam also noted that the four companies at the bottom of the scorecard fail to reach even half of Unilever’s score – Kellogg with 24/70, Danone and General Mills both at 22/70, and ABF at 21/70.

 “The global food system remains broken,” Oxfam said. “The Big 10 continue to thrive while many small-scale producers and agricultural workers struggle to sustain their families and realize their rights. Women continue to be disproportionately affected. Too many farmers and agricultural workers still struggle to make a decent living, and climate change will only make it harder.”

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