Corporations within the food and beverage industry have become increasingly powerful and commercially successful within the last century. Yet this success has entailed environmental degradation and increasing social inequalities. For example, “in Pakistan, rural communities say Nestle is bottling and selling valuable groundwater near villages that can’t afford clean water”. Other companies face charges dealing with child labor or deforestation. Unfortunately, cheap land and labor are vital to the massive profits of these companies. Yet, in more recent years, companies have begun to act in more socially responsible and sustainable ways due to the increasing scrutiny that these companies are under regarding diseases such as obesity and diabetes. At least, it would appear so on the surface. Oxfam’s “Behind the Brands” campaign analyzed the 10 largest companies that dominate the food and beverage industry, rating each company on their social and environmental campaigns.
To begin, the “big 10” – Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills , Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods), Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever, generate more than $1.1 billion a day in revenues. These companies are part of the food and beverage industry that is valued at $7 trillion, which represents about 10% of the total global economy. Yet business has its consequences for people and the environment. Companies are very much aware that the supply chains they rely on to generate these massive profits are “now in jeopardy as competition for fertile land and clean water increases, climate change makes weather uncertain, and farmers leave agriculture in droves due to low income and dangerous working conditions…today, 450 million men and women labor as waged workers in agriculture, and in many countries, up to 60 percent of these workers live in poverty”. And while some companies have expressed their understanding that this type of business will have to change, what steps have they actually taken to become more socially responsible?
Oxfam’s “Behind the Brands scorecard” examines company policies in 7 areas that are critical to sustainable business in the global agricultural industry: women, small-scale farmers, farm workers, water, climate change, land, and transparency.
While women make up 43 % of workers in global agriculture, most of them can’t own land and are paid less than men for doing the same job. The scorecard looks at how the Big 10’s policies encourage equality for women and workplaces free of discrimination.
Rural development and local jobs are highly impacted by small-scale farms, who also do a better job of taking care of the environment than large companies do. Small-scale farms tend to equal better food security for the poor due to being more nutritionally efficient than large companies. The scorecard assesses if small farms have access to corporate supply chains on fair terms and the Big 10’s policies to ensure sustainable production standards within their supply chains.
The scorecard assesses whether there are fair working conditions and rights for farm workers to make sure that they earn enough to sustain their families.
Up to 29% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the food industry, yet not much is being done to address this issues. The scorecard looks at how the Big 10 assess and implement solutions dealing with GHG emissions.
Foreign investors have grabbed up land in developing countries yet this land could be used feed 1 billion people. The scorecard assesses what policies are put in place to avoid these “land grabs”.
Water has become a scarce commodity and the fight for who controls the water rages on. The scorecard looks at companies’ commitment to the human right to water.
Finally, transparency is key if companies are going to be healed accountable for their actions. Seeing as these companies have enormous power in influencing governments on how to regulate the global food system through lobbies and financial contributions, these details must be made public.
For more information, visit Oxfam’s report.