Nestle, Unilever Improve Corporate Citizenship, but Food’s ‘Big 10’ Rank Poorly Overall

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Thirty-one major investment funds, representing close to 1.5 trillion dollars, have called on food industry leaders to improve their supply chain policies and transparency.

Sponsored by Calvert Investments and signed by investors including F&C Asset Management, BNP Paribas Investment Partners and Aviva Investors, the funds commit to work with their companies to pursue changes and support Oxfam’s Behind the Brands initiative.

The push to improve such policies comes on the heels of an update to Oxfam’s Behind the Brands scorecard, which, depsite several improvements by segment leaders Nestle and Unilever, still leaves much room for advancements in sustainability and corporate responsibility. “The data show there is a broad and urgent need for significant improvement across the sector,” the organization said in a press release.[more]

Back in February, when the original scorecard was published, Oxfam slammed the “Big 10” food companies, including Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, and Mondelez for exploiting millions of people that labor to provide their companies with products that earn the companies upwards of $1 billion a day. Worse off, many of the people that contribute to production live in developing countries and have little access to basic necessities. 

The scorecard’s update recognizes “small improvements” that companies have made since February, including front-runners Nestle and Unilever, which both saw a 7 percent increase in ranking. Still, no company has performed better than “fair.”

For its part, Nestle now recognizes “land rights more comprehensively and is the first company of the Big 10 to fully support Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) for local communities in its supplier guidelines, used for the sourcing of sugar, soy, palm oil and other commodities,” according to the report. Coca-Cola, which saw a 5 percent increase, now includes policies that better manage water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, while Unilever saw a boost in its Gender score thanks to its endorsement of the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles and its commitment to better assess commodity sources where women play a key role. 

The report, which will be updated monthly for at least three years, aims to motivate major global food brands to “turn around a 100-year legacy of relying on cheap land and labor to make mass products at huge profits, with unacceptably high social and environmental costs,” Oxfam International executive director Jeremy Hobbs said

While “none of the ten biggest food and beverage companies are moving fast enough,” perhaps a little public lambasting will help promote more change. 

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