Investors push food industry giants for urgent action on transparency

Posted by Lucy Brinicombe Senior Press Officer

17th Sep 2013

New rankings show food companies slowly improving policies

Today 31 major investment funds, representing nearly 1.5 trillion dollars of assets under management, called on food industry giants - Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Mars, Pepsi Co, Mondelez, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg's and Associated British Foods (ABF) - to improve their supply chain policies and transparency. 

In a statement shared with the ten biggest food and beverage companies in the world, the investors expressed support for Oxfam's Behind the Brands initiative and urged companies to do more to reduce social and environmental risks in their supply chains. Oxfam's campaign is calling on the companies to act by having policies on issues like climate change and land so that the people at the bottom of their supply chains are not exploited or put at risk.

"Due to a lack of transparency within the sector, it is difficult to fully evaluate the risk and opportunity that our companies bear within their supply chains," reads the statement sponsored by Calvert Investments and signed by investors including F&C Asset Management, BNP Paribas Investment Partners and Aviva Investors. The investment funds promised to work with their companies to pursue changes to food and beverage company policies. 

"The data show there is a broad and urgent need for significant improvement across the sector," the statement adds.

The letter comes six months after the launch of Oxfam's Behind the Brands scorecard, ranking the food and beverage companies on their policies and urging them to strengthen their efforts to prevent hunger, poverty and protect the environment. Today Oxfam announced its second update to the rankings showing small improvements companies have made to their policies. Companies including Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Danone and General Mills have seen slight increases in their scores, though no company performs better than "fair" overall.

UK Fund Manager Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at Aviva Investors, said: "The scorecard is a valuable tool to identify areas of risk across companies' supply chains and compare different efforts to mitigate those risks. We are encouraged by the initial steps some of the companies are taking but hope to see more action and greater commitment from across the industry."

Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President, Sustainability Research and Policy at Calvert Investments, said: "Investors are increasingly rewarding companies that address sustainability challenges across their global supply chains. Companies should show steady progress on the scorecard to manage risk and opportunity, especially in emerging and frontier markets."

Over the six months, score increases have been measured for Unilever and Nestle (7 per cent), Coca- Cola (5 per cent) Danone (4 per cent), Mondelez (2 per cent) and Mars and General Mills (1 per cent). There was no change for PepsiCo, ABF or Kellogg's.

Among the changes that led to score increases:

Nestle now recognises 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. FPIC requirements can help push suppliers to avoid land grabs and respect the rights of local communities when involved in large scale land acquisitions.

Coca-Cola's Sustainable Agricultural Guiding Principles now include policies that require suppliers to better manage water pollution, biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions leading to small improvements in the company's scores on water, land and climate change.

Unilever's gender score has improved from a 3 to 4 based on its endorsement of the UN Women's Empowerment Principles and its commitment to conduct impact assessments on commodities it sources where women play a key role.
ABF, General Mills and Kellogg's remain at the bottom of the scorecard with few signs of progress.

Judy Beals, manager of Oxfam's Behind the Brands campaign said: "It is important to recognise the genuine effort some companies are making to address big challenges in their operations, but lasting solutions for communities will require much greater focus and ambition. 

"Some companies are beginning to join the race to the top while others have barely approached the starting blocks. Now - more than ever - consumers and investors need to demand more action from companies to address the industry's impacts on hunger and poverty."

The updated scorecard comes just two weeks before Oxfam releases a major new investigation revealing land grabs in the sugar supply chains of major food and beverage giants. It will be the second major action since the Behind the Brands campaign began. Oxfam's first campaign action on women's rights resulted in new policy commitments from Mars, Mondelez and Nestle to address inequality in their cocoa supply chains.

/ENDS

Notes to editors:

For interviews or more information contact Lucy Brinicombe, 07786 110054 / lbrinicombe@oxfam.org.uk

Details on Oxfam's Behind the Brands Scorecard visit: www.behindthebrands.org/scorecard


FULL TEXT OF THE STATEMENT:

As investors, we are increasingly struck by the risks and opportunities presented by a range of global sustainability challenges, such as poverty and climate change. The Food and Beverage Sector faces a particularly difficult set of sustainability challenges. Given its dependence on land, water, proximity to local communities and exposure to volatile commodity prices, we recognize that several social and environmental forces are at play - such as climate change and resulting water scarcity, the poverty and gender inequity of small scale production that magnifies inefficiencies, and lack of suitable water and land tenure protections for communities and producers.  

Due to a lack of transparency within the sector, it is difficult to fully evaluate the risk and opportunity that our companies bear within their supply chains. We welcome Oxfam's efforts to improve transparency and accountability within the Sector. Oxfam's Behind The Brands project evaluates the supply chain policies of the ten largest food and beverage companies in comparison with their peers. The scorecard examines company policies in seven areas critical to sustainable agricultural production: women, small-scale farmers, farm workers, water, land, climate change, and transparency. 

While the scorecard rankings show some companies performing better than others, all companies within the sector have low scores. The data show there is a broad and urgent need for significant improvement across the sector.

We support Oxfam's call for adequate protection for local communities from land and natural resource displacement, with policies in place to ensure the equal treatment of women. And we back the need for urgent action to tackle agricultural greenhouse gas emissions as part of efforts across the highest emitting sectors of the economy.

We will work closely with our companies to achieve the changes necessary to positively impact the communities and environments at source. The areas identified in the Behind The Brands report provide a strong basis for that engagement.

Behind The Brands will run for at least three years, with a dynamic, online scorecard, which will be updated on a monthly basis. We hope this will promote a "race to the top"; a race within which we want to participate.

There is a clear and growing consumer interest in understanding the impacts made by the supply chains of the brands they purchase. Consumers and investors recognize the problems identified as real and urgent. We will continue to engage with this project to support improved policies and practices that guarantee future commodity supplies and to reduce social and environmental risks - all as part of the process of establishing sustainable business models in the Food and Beverage sector for the 21st Century.

FULL LIST OF SIGNATORIES:
Aviva
BNP Paribas
Boston Common Asset Management LLC
Calvert Investments
Christian Brothers Investment Services
Co-operative Asset Management
Dignity Health
Domini Social Investments
Everence Financial and the Praxis Mutual Fund
F&C Investments
Fresh Pond Capital
GES Investment Services
Goodfunds Wealth Management
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
Mercy Investment Services
Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment
Newground Social Investments
Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment
Pax World Management LLC
Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati 
Sustainalytics
The Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge
Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment
Trillium Asset Management, LLC
Unitarian Universalist Association
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Veris Wealth Partners
Walden Asset Management, a division of Boston Trust & Investment Management Company
WHEB Asset Management
Zevin Asset Management

Blog post written by Lucy Brinicombe

Senior Press Officer

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