Oxfam thanks food industry for ‘bland’ and ‘complacent’ response to damning CSR report

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sustainability

Oxfam thanks food industry for ‘bland’ and ‘complacent’ response to damning CSR report
Oxfam will step up its campaign to improve the treatment of people and resources that form part of the supply chain of the world’s biggest food conglomerates, after it cast industry responses to its damning Behind the Brands report as ‘bland’ and ‘complacent’.

The NGO’s report ranked 10 firms including Unilever, Danone and Mars on supply chain accountability. All fared poorly overall with Nestlé top with a score of 38 out of 70 in seven categories: Treatment of workers, farmers, women, land and water as well as climate and overall transparency.

Associated British Foods (ABF) scored just 13/70. Kellogg and General Mills fared little better with 16/70.

Responses from the food industry pointed to programmes like nutrition initiatives that were in place and included this call from Unilever: …brand manufacturers are only part of the solution and we believe that meaningful progress can only be made when all relevant stakeholders - including primary producers, first processors, traders, retailers, civil society and governments - work together."

People fail

Oxfam Behind the Brands campaign manager Alison Woodhead was not impressed in saying, “The message is out; the big ten food companies are failing the people who grow their ingredients and consumers are taking note.”

“Thousands of individuals are already asking tough questions of these companies and pushing them on Twitter and Facebook to do more."

“But so far the companies' responses have been largely complacent - falling back on bland PR; pointing to examples of projects that only address small parts of their impacts on hunger and poverty.”

“We're glad that some companies have acknowledged the scale and urgency of the problems, but admitting the problem is just the first step, it must be backed up by action.

Women fail

One of the barometers, treatment of women, came in for special mention by Oxfam and Woodhead.

“Oxfam has shown Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé very clear actions they can take to begin to address gender inequality in their supply chains.”

“It is plain for all to see that women who grow their ingredients are facing hunger, inequality and unfair pay. But none of the companies has stepped up to lead the way to change this. Until they do, our campaign will continue and grow even stronger.”

The full Oxfam corporate social responsibility scorecard which ranked the 10 food titans in seven categories. From left to right: Land; Women; Farmers; Workers; Climate; Transparency; Water
The full Oxfam corporate social responsibility scorecard which ranked the 10 food titans in seven categories. From left to right: Land; Women; Farmers; Workers; Climate; Transparency; Water

The report did provoke some actions with PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi reportedly disappointed about the company’s 22/70 ranking after a 30-minute impromptu meeting with Oxfam protesters in the US.


Other industry responses and Oxfam commentary are collected here...


"The Coca-Cola Company is committed to implementing practices throughout our supply chain that advance our sustainable agriculture strategy and support our commitment to build more sustainable communities.”

Oxfam response:“It is good to hear Coca Cola reiterating its commitment to sustainability and economic opportunity for women and smallholder farmers. But the company scores poorly on farmers as well as on land, and has a long way to go with most of its social and environmental policies.”

mars saudi


“Mars takes a comprehensive approach to this issue, with a strong focus on the entire farming community specifically in the area of cocoa sustainability. Our leadership has had a positive impact on the women, children and families of smallholder farms.”
We look forward to strengthening our approach involving women in the community development process and continuing to ensure that women in cocoa communities are fully empowered to participate equally alongside the many other diverse groups in West African society.”

Oxfam reaction: “Oxfam welcomes the steps that Mars has taken to do right by small-scale farmers, including its commitment to source 100% certified cocoa by 2020. However, coming in at 5th out of 10 companies with a poor overall score of just 30% in our scorecard is not impressive, and it should give Mars serious concern.”

“Mars gets the lowest possible score for its policies on women, which means those policies are simply unfit for modern purpose and Mars needs to take urgent action to improve them. Oxfam has called on Mars to conduct an official assessment of its impact on women cocoa farmers and to announce a plan of action to address gender inequality in its supply chains. Mars has yet to step up.”

Farmers like these west African cocoa workers are victims of global food supply chains, says Oxfam
Farmers like these west African cocoa workers are victims of global food supply chains, says Oxfam


“… we were the world’s largest buyer of Fairtrade Certified cocoa (20,000 tonnes) in 2011 and one of the largest buyers of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa (15,000 tonnes) as well as the biggest buyer of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee (50,000 tonnes). All our European coffee brands are committed to sustainably source 100% of their coffee by 2015.”

“We are surprised that Oxfam does not acknowledge these investments in its report.”

“While we’re pleased Oxfam is raising awareness of these issues, we feel their scorecard is a missed opportunity to engage companies in positive change.”

Oxfam reaction: “We recognize the many individual projects and commitments that Mondelez has made but these projects are piecemeal at best.”

“Rather than compiling a laundry list of well-known existing projects, Mondelez should respond to Oxfam’s specific request that they commit to an assessment of gender inequality in their cocoa supply chains which would be followed by a plan of action to address the problems. Consumers should ask why Mondelez has avoided answering this question.”

general mills logo

General Mills

“We will continue efforts to advance our work in these areas as part of our commitment to global sustainability.”

Oxfam reaction: “It is good to see General Mills reiterate a general commitment to global sustainability. But with an overall score of just 23%, tied for 8th out of 10 companies, and the lowest possible scores on land and farmers, General Mills has significant work to do to improve how they do business.”


“Kellogg’s is committed to working more closely with the farmers who grow our grains to drive improvements in sustainability and we have a zero tolerance policy against forced labour. Clearly the ratings in the Oxfam report show us we need do more and we will be reviewing them in detail.”

Oxfam reaction: “Oxfam welcomes Kellogg’s commitment to do more to improve their policies…We will be particularly looking to Kellogg for rapid action in the areas of both land and farmers, where the company received the lowest possible score of 1.”


No statement.

Oxfam reaction: “Danone has shown a remarkable indifference to their impacts on hunger and poverty by not responding to the clear failures in their social and environmental policies that Oxfam has highlighted.

“With an overall score of just 29% on the Behind the Brands scorecard including the lowest possible scores on women, land and farmers, Danone has significant work to do to improve how they do business.”



“While we are pleased that we ranked highest in this survey, we recognise that improving food security worldwide requires a lot more effort by all stakeholders.”

“We are fully committed to further improving the livelihoods of small farmers through our Rural Development Framework. By working cooperatively with more than 600,000 famers that provide our raw materials, we are in a unique position to make a real impact.”

Oxfam reaction: “Nestlé’s reaction highlights its support to small scale farmers, sustainable use of water and addressing child labour. But Nestle scores poorly on land and women and these are areas of real concern for a company that relies so heavily on land and on women farmers and workers.”

“Nestle does not have any guidelines requiring suppliers to take a zero tolerance approach to land grabbing, nor does it know how many women are involved in their cocoa supply chain and whether these women are at risk of exclusion of exploitation.”



“…more attention needs to be paid to the importance of improved nutrition, in addition to the issue of food security and we are working with the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Campaign and within the SUN Alliance to provide support for the broad-scale approach to eradicating hunger.”

“In the meantime, Unilever will continue to work on traceability and transparency of its raw material supply together with its suppliers and will seek to engage in partnerships with all relevant stakeholders to meet the targets of our Sustainable Living Plan and help solve some of the issues raised in the report.”

Oxfam reaction: “Unilever is right to say that food security challenges will only be tackled if they are addressed comprehensively by a range of actors…. We look forward to seeing specific new commitments and public actions from Unilever to address where there are gaps in their sustainability such as preventing land grabs and pursuing equality for women.”


"The idea that ABF would use a 'veil of secrecy' in order to hide the 'human cost' of its supply chain is simply ridiculous. We treat local producers, communities and the environment with the utmost respect. As for transparency ... our next CR report in autumn 2013 will confirm significant improvement in disclosure."

Oxfam reaction: It is good to see that ABF intends to improve the information it discloses and Oxfam looks forward to evaluating any shifts in policy as they are made public. 

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