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Oxfam: Veil of secrecy hides human cost behind top food and drinks companies supply chains

Posted by Georgette Thomas Oxfam Media officer, Oxford, UK

26th Feb 2013

A British food giant, owner of brands including Silverspoon, Amoy and Kingsmill is keeping consumers in the dark about how it does its business and failing to ensure suppliers meet the ethical standards required to improve the lives of the world's poorest farmers, Oxfam warns today.

At a time when public confidence in food production has been hit hard by the horsemeat scandal, new research by Oxfam shows that Associated British Foods is the worst of the 'Big 10' global food and drinks companies, although none of the ten score a good overall rating on their public policies and commitments to protect farmers, local communities and the environment. 

Oxfam Chief Executive Barbara Stocking, said "Consumers have the right to know how their food has been produced and the impact this has on the world's poorest people who are growing the ingredients. Companies have a responsibility to treat local producers, communities and environments with respect. It is time the veil of secrecy shrouding this multi-billion dollar industry was lifted. 

"The hundreds of brands lining supermarket shelves are predominantly owned by just ten huge companies which have combined revenues of more than one billion dollars a day whilst one in eight people go to bed hungry every night".

The 'Behind the Brands' scorecard enables consumers for the first time to compare how the owners of their favourite brands perform on their social and environmental impacts and Oxfam is calling on the public to use social media to put pressure on the food giants - many of which are household names - Coca-Cola, Danone, Kellogg's, Mars, Nestle and Pepsico plus less well known names Associated British Foods, General Mills, Mondelez (formally Kraft) and Unilever - to improve their policies. 

Stocking added: "We are calling on the public to pile pressure on the 'Big 10' food and drinks companies so they stop being part of the problem and begin to play their part in providing solutions to the scandal which sees hundreds of millions go hungry despite there being more than enough food in the world to feed everyone." 

Last month Oxfam and 100 other organisations launched the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, the largest of its kind since Make Poverty History, which is calling on the G8 to take action to tackle global hunger including asking governments and big corporations to be honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food. 

Oxfam ranked the companies according to their standards across seven different areas including the transparency of their supply chains and operations, how they ensure the rights of workers and farmers who grow their ingredients, how they protect women's rights, the management of water and land use, and policies to reduce the impacts of climate change.  

The scorecard places Associated British Foods last on 19%. The company's lack of transparency in its supply chain operations was a major factor in its poor overall performance as few of its brands were able to demonstrate how they do business with suppliers or enforce ethical standards.  

While a small number of ABF brands do have good policies in some areas - the well known tea brand Twinings for example, stood out for its commitments to a living wage for workers - these are not applied across the business.  Patak and Amoy, for instance have no public policies requiring suppliers to pay a living wage or support small holder farmers and they fail to require their suppliers to prevent pollution or safeguard water quality.

Kellogg's (23%) and General Mills (23%) also scored poorly, with weaker public policies than Coca-Cola (41%), Unilever (49%) and Nestle (54%) for example.

Stocking said: "British based Associated British Foods is bottom of our scorecard but there are no gold medal performers amongst these big hitting food companies. All ten are failing to use their immense influence on the supply chain to help end the hard to swallow injustice of an imbalanced food system. 

"Business as usual is no longer acceptable, all these giants must urgently raise their game and ensure that consumers enjoying their bar of chocolate or cup of coffee are also helping the world's poorest people." 

Further key findings outlined in Oxfam's report today are:

· While some of the 'Big 10' have publicly committed to women's rights none have committed to eliminating discrimination against women throughout their supply chains. 

· None of the companies have adequate policies to protect local communities from land and water grabs, despite all of them sourcing commodities plagued by land rights violations, such as palm oil, soy and sugar. Not one company has declared 'zero tolerance' against land grabs in their supply chains. 

· All of the companies have taken steps to reduce direct emissions, but only five - Mondelez, Danone, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mars - publicly report on agricultural emissions associated with their products. Unilever alone has committed to halve its greenhouse gas footprint by 2020. None have yet developed policies to help farmers in their supply chains to build resilience to climate change.

· None have publicly committed to pay a fair price to farmers or fair business arrangements with them across all agricultural operations. Only Unilever - which is top-ranked for its dealings with small-scale farmers - has specific supplier guidelines to address some key issues faced by farmers. 

The 'Behind the Brands' campaign is today launching in more than 12 countries including the UK, across Europe, Brazil, China, Mexico, and Brazil.  


Notes to editors:

1. Oxfam has engaged with all 10 companies during the last year who have cooperated in providing data to inform this scorecard. The scorecard will be updated if companies change their policies. 

2. Oxfam rated the companies on their policies on seven topics: how they ensure the rights of the workers and farmers who grow their ingredients, how they protect women's rights, management of land and water use, climate change and the transparency of their supply chains, policies and operations. It did not review other important policies such as those dealing with nutrition, tax and waste, for example. 

3. ABF is a group of companies and managed in a more decentralised fashion than the other nine companies. However, these companies are all centrally owned by the ABF group. ABF is also owner of Primark. 

4. To learn more about Oxfam's campaigning work to secure a future where everyone has enough to eat. Visit 

5. About Enough Food for Everyone IF:  Enough Food for Everyone IF is a coalition of 100 organisations, including Oxfam, and counting which have joined together to campaign for action by the G8 on the issue of global hunger. 

For further information, interviews or a copy of the Behind the Brands report please contact: Georgette Thomas +44 (0)7824 503108

Blog post written by Georgette Thomas

Oxfam Media officer, Oxford, UK

More by Georgette Thomas