The power of scrutiny – food giants under the spotlight

Erinch Sahan

Blog post by Erinch Sahan

Oxfam Great Britain, Private Sector Policy Adviser
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The global food giants are under scrutiny. We launched the Behind the Brands campaign and scorecard on 26 February. Less than three weeks later, the Global Access to Nutrition Index (GANI) was launched. Taken together, the two scorecards shine a light on the policies and operations of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. One (Behind the Brands) scrutinizes their policies and commitments on sourcing from developing countries; and the other (GANI) scrutinises their nutrition-related commitments, performance and disclosure practices.

All this scrutiny comes at a time when civil society is ramping-up its focus on holding the food giants to account. Save the Children is focusing on a campaign on the marketing of breast milk substitutes by Nestle and Danone. Meanwhile, ActionAid focuses on tax avoidance and targets Associated British Foods for their dealings in Zambia.

The two scorecards focus on two critical areas where the global food giants have immense power: conditions on farms, and the food choices given to consumers.

On the food production end of the chain, the food companies are among the most powerful forces shaping the food system. They hold immense leverage over their suppliers and their collective leverage is enormous. They can and should take responsibility for conditions and practices on farms where their ingredients are grown.

On the consumer end of the chain, the global food giants bring to consumers the food lining the shelves of supermarkets. As the GANI press release tells us, they “must do more to increase access to nutritious products and positively exercise their influence on consumer choice and behavior.”

It’s a story of power: power over producers – power over consumers. Both scorecards hold global food giants responsible for how they use their immense power.

Now to the nuts and bolts of each scorecard. In terms of focus, both are focused on company policies, disclosure and commitments. Behind the Brands asks 276 questions of each of the companies, across seven themes. GANI also assesses companies across seven themes but uses a different seven more relevant to issues of nutrition. Both take a corporate-level approach to the standards and rules companies set for themselves.

Behind the Brands looks at the 10 largest food and beverage companies while GANI looks at the top 25. Despite slightly different ways of working out who these companies are, nine of the “Big 10” assessed in Behind the Brands are assessed by GANI through a nutritional-lense. And both scorecards are built around publicly available reports and other documents disclosed by companies. However, GANI also uses interviews that allow companies to supplement publicly available information.

In both scorecards the results aren’t pretty. The highest score in GANI is 6.3 out of 10 (Danone). The highest score in Behind the Brands is a 54% (Nestle). The vast majority of companies fail on both sourcing from developing countries and nutrition. Both scorecards show that the world’s largest food and beverage companies need to lift their game, considerably.

Behind the Brands has now been running for over two weeks. And the companies are feeling the heat. Here are some numbers (current today) to show why we’re excited about the early results:

  • 164,000 visitors to our website
  • 15,000 tweets (59 million exposed) 
  • Reached at least 3 million on Facebook
  • Over 32,000 signed up to the petition on women and chocolate 

All this across 10 versions in 7 languages including Chinese, Brazilian and Portuguese. So yes, we think our message is gaining momentum as it comes at the Big 10 from multiple angles.

The scrutiny is now there, focused on how the global food giants use their power. Both scorecards will be updated and both will continue to scrutinize Big Food over coming years. But how will they respond? We’ll be watching and so will consumers.

Get the truth Behind the Brands now.