Oxfam International is an international confederation of 17 organisations working in 94 countries to solve poverty and injustice issues around the world. In recent years with consumers’ increasing awareness of social injustice and the need for sustainable solutions to secure our food for the future, food firms have been pledging efforts to engage in fairer trade and make their operations more sustainable.
Of course, it is always easier to say something than to get it done. Oxfam has therefore looked at the world’s top 10 food firms (based on the largest overall revenues globally and their position in the Forbes 2000 annual ranking) and evaluated their efforts and progress on their pledges, and released their Behind the Brands report. This report is part of Oxfam’s Grow campaign to help create a world where everyone has enough to eat.
These firms comprised: Associated British Foods, Danone, General Mills Incorporated, Mars Incorporated, Mondelēz International Incorporated, Nestlé, PepsiCo Incorporated, The Coca-Cola Company, The Kellogg Company, and Unilever.
Evaluation took place through scoring and ranking these firms on their commitments for women’s rights, carbon emissions, water, land rights, transparency, farmers and farm workers’ rights. In the earlier edition of the report published in 2013, seven of the 10 companies had overall scores of 31 percent or below. In the 2016 edition however, all 10 companies scored over 36 percent.
Oxfam attributes this improvement to consumer campaigns, as no brand is too big to listen to its consumers. Consumers and their accessibility and use of social gives them an unprecedented opportunity to connect with companies and to hold them accountable for the commitments they made.Through making the scorecard and data assessment publicly available on the Oxfam website, stakeholders can also hold companies to account, said an Oxfam spokesperson.
By putting pressure on these global giants, there would be expected trickledown effect on other companies of the industry and throughout the food supply chain.
In the latest report, the greatest improvements were seen on gender inequality, protecting land rights, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, little improvement has been seen on farmer workers’ rights. The organisation cited Unilever as the only company who has made significant efforts to raise low farmer wages and ensure steps are taken to implement this.
Efforts for transparency also seem to be minimal. None of the 10 companies assessed voluntarily disclose key public fiscal information that would be necessary to determine whether they are paying their fair share of taxes in the countries they operate in.
Despite the strong process over the past three years, it can be seen that there is still much left to be done. Erinch Sahan, acting head of private sector, Oxfam, commented: “The ‘Big 10’ must now substantially change their business models in order to deliver on their promises and ensure that workers and small-scale producers get a living wage throughout their supply chains. This could make a huge impact in helping fight poverty.”
By giving more power and economic value to farmers, workers and food producing communities, it would not be good only for the companies, but also for the parties at the bottom of the supply chains in the long run, he added.