Global companies’ records draw scrutiny from Oxfam

BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) — Many of the world’s top food and drink companies are taking steps to improve their social and environmental impact on poor countries, says Oxfam.


However, there is still much more to do, it added.


Oxfam launched its Behind the Brands campaign a year ago to try to assess the real impact of food and drink companies on the countries where they source raw materials, especially given a proliferation of public commitments to sustainability.


Oxfam said the companies it ranked as most responsible — Nestle, Unilever and Coca-Cola — had extended their lead over the others, while General Mills had replaced Associated British Foods in last place.


Big food and beverage companies have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years over their sourcing of raw materials, courting criticism on issues as varied as child labour on cocoa farms to the impact of palm oil plantations on rain forests.


Oxfam said its campaign had been helped by thousands of consumers bombarding brands with messages calling for action as well as a joint statement from 31 investment funds representing nearly $1.5 trillion of assets that reiterated the Oxfam demands.


“Those that are not moving fast enough will pay a price with the public, investors and communities in the field,” said Chris Jochnick, director of Oxfam’s private sector work.


“Those companies that move first should see benefits in long-term access to sustainable supply chains, which should be reflected in their share price.”


Oxfam said the biggest 10 food and beverage companies it studied had a significant impact, given that their annual revenues of more than $450 billion are equivalent to the national income of all the world’s low-income countries combined.


Oxfam ranked the firms on their policies in areas it sees as critical to sustainable agriculture: women, small-scale farmers, farm workers, water, land, climate change and transparency.


The top 10 companies were Nestle first, Unilever second, Coca-Cola third, Mondale International and PepsiCo fourth, Mars and Danone sixth, Kellogg Co. eighth, AB Foods ninth and General Mills 10th. 


Jochnick said General Mills lost ground due to a lower score for transparency because it was not publishing as much information as before on its water policies.


General Mills said it had a strong focus on sustainability and believed its efforts merited a better score, noting the Oxfam score was based only on publicly available information.