Associated British Foods – worst-in-class in an Oxfam report critical of 10 food giants for essentially operating under a corporate social responsibility (CSR) “veil of secrecy” – has hit back, slamming the report ‘s findings as “ridiculous”.
The Behind the Brands report ranked 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.
ABF scored 14 out of 70 and not higher than 3 in any particular category. Kellogg and General Mills fared little better with 16/70. No company scored higher than 3 out of 10 in its approach to the land.
Oxfam said ABF’s lack of transparency made it hard to determine its CSR level for many of its brands with Lipton’s faring better than others like Patak and Amoy where supply chain control did not extend to minimum farmer wages or water supply protection.
"It is time the veil of secrecy shrouding this multi-billion dollar industry was lifted," said Oxfam chief executive Barbara Stocking.
"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.”
Of ABM’s land policies, Oxfam said specifically: “ABF could stand for A Big Fail. It doesn’t officially recognize community land rights or the impact that growing crops for fuel has on food supplies.”
ABF dismissed the allegations, noting its CSR work and improvement programmes already in place. “The idea that ABF would use a ‘veil of secrecy’ in order to hide the ‘human cost’ of its supply chain is simply ridiculous,” a spokesperson said.
“We treat local producers, communities and the environment with the utmost respect. The company has worked hard for many years, over a wide geography, at all levels of the supply chain to ensure its suppliers meet the highest ethical standards.”
“As for transparency, this is an issue for each individual business to deal with in its own way and to satisfy its own stakeholders. We are always seeking to improve and are in constant communication with our stakeholders. The publication of our next CR report in autumn 2013 will confirm significant improvement in disclosure from the previous report.”
Nestlé was the only company to score over 50%, with Unilever (34/70; 49%), Coca-Cola (29; 41%) and Pepsi (22; 31%) next best in an entire group that failed to impress Oxfam. Mars, Danone and Mondelez rounded out the table.
Oxfam praised all the firms except Coca-Cola for signing up to sustainable palm oil programmes along with Unilever’s 2020 greenhouse gas reduction commitment.
“Race to the top”
"There are enormous gaps in terms of basic transparency which makes it very difficult to hold these companies to account," said Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.
"The goal is not to criticise these companies for poor performance but encourage a 'race to the top'."
In a statement Coca-Cola said: “We believe in creating economic opportunities for women and smallholder farmers as well as stewarding water and other natural resources within the more than 200 countries in which we operate.”
“As part of The Coca-Cola Company’s commitment to transparent, more sustainable and responsible business practices, we welcome a continuous dialogue with Oxfam that enables us to identify and address global challenges collaboratively.”