Behind the Brands launch - a volunteer's point of view

16th Oct 2013

Taking Behind the Brands to Coca-Cola's HQ

By Ipek Gencsu, Oxfam GB volunteer

Last week I took part in the launch of the latest action of the Behind the Brands Campaign (I'm in the grey suit!). Dressed up as 'sugar inspectors' - fully kitted with lab coats, goggles and Oxfam clipboards! - we visited the offices of Coke, Pepsi and Associated British Foods (ABF). 

Our aim was to persuade them to monitor their sugar suppliers and make sure their purchases do not contribute to 'land grabs'. Some of us started the day at the Coca-Cola Headquarters, where our investigative scientist look caught the public's attention during the morning rush hour. We were quickly approached by a stylish gentleman who asked about the campaign. He turned out to be the Director of Public Affairs for Coca-Cola Europe, Salvatore Gabola, and invited us into the building for a discussion. 

Coca-Cola

Gabola explained that he had read our policy paper and that Coca-Cola was taking steps to address the problem of land grabs, such as joining the sugar certification body Bonsucro. Although it was nice to hear about Coke's efforts, we said that listing a couple of examples of good behaviour was not enough and they had to address the systematic problems in their supply chains. When he mentioned that some of their suppliers were six steps away from the boardroom, I pointed out that it was still their responsibility to ensure good practices. Gabola welcomed the opportunity to work with Oxfam to make further progress.

Pepsico and Associated British Foods 

We left feeling motivated and moved onto ABF, where again we informed passersby about the campaign. Unfortunately, although we had informed ABF of the action, no representative from the company was interested in meeting us. We gave written information to an employee, hoping it would reach those who influence the company's supplier policies. Another group of campaigners visited PepsiCo that morning and chatted to employees on their way into work. They were met by the Head of Internal Affairs who also committed to continuing the conversation. 

Women and cocoa action success

I was motivated to take part in Behind the Brands because through targeting the 'Big 10' food and beverage companies on specific issues, Oxfam is able to initiate substantial improvements in their policies. Last March, I took part in the launch of the Women and Cocoa action in New York, which was a great success! Following pressure from Oxfam and thousands of supporters from around the world who signed an online petition, Mars, Mondelēz and Nestlé agreed to better standards concerning women cocoa farmers. 

The scorecard and the 'Big 10'

The success of this campaign also comes from engaging the companies in a positive way, offering to work with them towards better policy. As the Behind the Brands Scorecard is updated regularly to reflect recent improvements, companies can take pride in their achievements. I hope that the initial interest from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo will encourage ABF to also start a dialogue with Oxfam, and that this campaign will lead to similar successes. While the 'Big 10' have a long way to go, it is great to see more and more of the red Scorecard indicators gradually turn orange and yellow.