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World's biggest food companies 'failing millions of people'

Research by Oxfam shows ten of the world’s largest companies are ranking low in terms of ethical standards.

Image: Supermarket image via Shutterstock

INTERNATIONAL AGENCY OXFAM has said that the social and environmental policies of the world’s ten biggest food and beverage giants are failing millions of people who who supply land, labour, water and commodities needed to make their products.

The charity has ranked the agricultural policies, public commitments and supply chain oversight of of Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, Pepsico and Unilever for the first time.

ABF, Kellogs and General Mills fared worst while Nestlé had the highest score at 54 per cent. In a statement today, Kellogg’s said it is committed to “a sustainable, ethical and transparent supply chain”.

“We are working more closely with the farmers who grow our grains to drive collaborative sustainability improvements,” the company said. “We also have a zero-tolerance position against forced labor, including slavery and human trafficking.”

Oxfam’s said while some of the companies have publicly committed to women’s’ rights, none have committed to eliminating discrimination against women throughout their supply chains. Furthermore none of the companies have declared a ‘zero tolerance’ against land and water grabs. The organisation said all ten companies are “overly secretive” about their agricultural supply chains.

Companies are generally increasing their overall water efficiency but Oxfams said most have failed to put policies in place to limit their impact on local water sources. Only Pepsi has publicly recognised water as a human right and committed to consult local communities. Nestlé has also developed guidelines for its suppliers to manage water and was ranked top for policies on water.

While all of the companies have taken steps to reduce direct emissions, only five publicly report on agricultural emissions associated with their products.

None have publicly committed to pay a fair price to farmers or fair business arrangements with them across all agricultural operations. Only Unilever – which is top-ranked for its dealings with small-scale farmers – has specific supplier guidelines to address some key issues faced by farmers.

‘Take responsibility’

Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland Jim Clarken said it is “time these companies take more responsibility for their immense influence on poor people’s lives”.

“Eighty percent of the world’s hungry people work in food production and these companies employ millions of people in developing countries to grow their ingredients,” he said. “They control hundreds of the world’s most popular brands and have the economic, social and political clout to make a real and lasting difference to the world’s poor and hungry.”

The ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign will launch in more than 12 countries including the US, Mexico, China, Brazil and across Europe.

Its first public action will target Nestle, Mondelez and Mars for “their failure to address inequality faced by women who grow cocoa for their chocolate products”. Oxfam said it is urging the three companies to do more to know and show how women are treated in their supply chains, create an action plan to address inequality for women in their supply chains and engage in advocacy to influence other powerful actors to do the same.

Read: Hunger remains ‘major’ global threat to world’s poorest and most vulnerable>

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