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Behind the Brands

By Oxfam

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Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign assesses companies’ performance on social responsibility, compares them with their peers, and challenges them to use their enormous power to help create a more just food system. 

Over the past century, powerful food and beverage companies have enjoyed unprecedented commercial success. But these companies have grown prosperous while the millions who supply the land, labor, and water needed for their products face increased hardship. Now, a rapidly changing environment, affected communities, and an increasingly savvy consumer base are pushing the industry to rethink “business as usual.”

Oxfam assessed the social and environmental policies of the world’s 10 largest food and beverage companies to evaluate where companies stand on policy in comparison with their peers. We challenged them to begin a “race to the top‟ to improve their social and environmental performance. By targeting specific areas for improvement along the supply chain, the campaign pinpoints policy weaknesses and works with others to shine a spotlight on the practices of these companies.

Behind the Brands focuses on 10 powerful companies:

  • Associated British Foods (ABF)
  • Coca-Cola
  • Danone
  • General Mills
  • Kellogg
  • Mars
  • Mondelēz International (previously Kraft Foods)
  • Nestlé
  • PepsiCo
  • Unilever

Our goal is to increase the transparency and accountability of the “Big 10‟ throughout the food supply chain. At its core, the campaign features the Behind the Brands scorecard. The scorecard examines company policies in seven areas critical to sustainable agricultural production, yet historically neglected by the food and beverage industry: women, small-scale farmers, farmworkers, water, land, climate change, and transparency.

According to the scorecard rankings, Nestlé and Unilever are currently performing better than the other companies, having developed and published more policies aimed at tackling social and environmental risks within their supply chains. At the other end of the spectrum, ABF and Kellogg have few policies addressing the impact of their operations on producers and communities.

Yet the scorecard also clearly shows that all of the Big 10—including those that score the highest—have neglected to use their enormous power to help create a more just food system. In fact, in some cases, these companies undermine food security and economic opportunity for the poorest people in the world, making hungry people even hungrier. Behind the Brands reveals that the social responsibility and sustainability programs that companies have implemented to date are typically tightly focused projects to reduce water use or to train women farmers, for example. But these programs fail to address the root causes of hunger and poverty because companies lack adequate policies to guide their own supply chain operations.

Important policy gaps include:

  • Companies are overly secretive about their agricultural supply chains, making claims of “sustainability” and “social responsibility” difficult to verify.
  • None of the Big 10 have adequate policies to protect local communities from land and water grabs along their supply chains.
  • Companies are not taking sufficient steps to curb massive agricultural greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate changes now affecting farmers.
  • Most companies do not provide small-scale farmers with equal access to their supply chains, and no company has made a commitment to ensure that small-scale producers are paid a fair price.
  • Only a minority of the Big 10 are doing anything at all to address the exploitation of women small-scale farmers and workers in their supply chains.

Although the Big 10 food and beverage companies consider themselves limited by fiscal and consumer demands, they do in fact have the power to address hunger and poverty within their supply chains. Paying adequate wages to workers, a fair price to small-scale farmers, and assessing and eliminating the unfair exploitation of land, water, and labor are all steps that clearly lie within the means of these hugely powerful companies. Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign encourages companies to reassess “business as usual‟ and instead begin a race to the top, a healthy competition among the Big 10 to ensure a more sustainable and just food system for all.

Behind the Brands is a part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign, which aims to build a better food system: one that sustainably feeds a growing population (estimated to reach nine billion people in 2050) and empowers poor people to earn a living, feed their families, and thrive. 

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