Skip to main content

How ethical are our food companies?

February 26, 2014 -- Updated 2201 GMT (0601 HKT)
Nestle, the maker of KitKat, Nescafe and Maggi, is at the top of the rankings. Oxfam says: "Nestle leads the way on climate change and water usage, worker rights and is the most transparent." Nestle, the maker of KitKat, Nescafe and Maggi, is at the top of the rankings. Oxfam says: "Nestle leads the way on climate change and water usage, worker rights and is the most transparent."
HIDE CAPTION
1. Nestle
2. Unilever
3. Coca-Cola
4.- 5. Mondelez
4. - 5. PepsiCo
6. Danone
6. Mars
8. Kellogg's
9. ABF
10. General Mills
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oxfam's new "Behind the Brands" scorecard ranks the policies of the world's 10 biggest food and drink companies
  • The report looks at transparency, women's rights, farmers' rights, and land, water and climate sustainability
  • Nestle, Unilever and Coca-Cola finished top, with General Mills and ABF at the bottom

(CNN) -- Love that chocolate Haagen-Dazs ice-cream? But what about the way its makers treat their farmers? How about KitKat and the way its production impacts the environment?

In a campaign to push big companies towards more ethical sourcing, international development group Oxfam is asking people to think about food producers' attitudes towards issues such as climate change and workers' rights the next time they dig into their favorite treat.

Oxfam's "Behind the Brands" scorecard compares the way the 10 largest global food and drink companies do business.

The report, first compiled last year, looks at transparency, women's rights, farmers' rights and land, water and climate sustainability.

Cocoa-nomics: Income of cocoa farmers
'Cocoa-nomics': The issue of child labor
'Cocoa-nomics': Certified child free cocoa

It relies on a "naming and shaming" strategy which asks people to share their concerns about the industry on social networks.

According to Oxfam, users asked companies to change their practices nearly 400,000 times since the campaign was first launched last February -- making their requests by sharing information on social media or printing out an information poster.

A year after its launch, the campaign is now looking at how these companies have improved their business practices.

Of the 10 biggest food and drink companies, nine made improvements to their policies in the last 12 months and improved their scores, Oxfam says.

General Mills, the seller of Haagen-Dazs and Yoplait, was the only one to see their score drop.

Oxfam's assessment is not favorable. "General Mills doesn't recognize key issues like the right to earn a living wage," the report said about the company that sells Betty Crocker, Cheerios, Haagen-Dazs or Old El Paso.

General Mills, like other low-performing companies, blames Oxfam's methodology for its poor scores.

"We do feel our efforts merit a stronger score," the company's spokesperson said.

"General Mills is strongly focused on sustainability," a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to CNN.

"We regularly report our progress in our annual Global Responsibility Report. Our report tends not to mirror the Oxfam scorecard, and because the scorecard is based only on publicly available information, that may be a key factor in their ranking," the statement said.

Oxfam's brands ranking

1 Nestle: 45/70
2 Unilever: 44/70
3 Coca-Cola: 38/70
4 Mondelez: 23/70
4 PepsiCo: 23/70
6 Danone: 22/70
6 Mars: 22/70
8 Kellogg's: 20/70
9 Associated British Foods: 19/70
10 General Mills: 15/70

Source: www.behindthebrands.org

Associated British Food, the brand behind Jordans cereals and global tea business Twinings, improved its score slightly compared to last year when it finished last -- but in this year's report, Oxfam still highlights its lack of ethical sourcing policies.

"In reality, the group's policies are much, much more effective than Oxfam gives it credit for," a spokesperson for ABF, which finished second to last, told CNN.

"At ABF, we believe we have policies and practices in place to deliver a genuinely effective corporate responsibility strategy," ABF said in a statement.

At the other end of the spectrum are the companies Oxfam praises for their drive to change their sourcing attitudes.

"Nestle, Unilever and Coca-Cola have joined a race to the top on policies that help address issues like hunger, poverty, women's rights, land grabs and climate change in their supply chains," the report said.

Nestle scored the highest marks on the issues of climate change and water usage, while Coca-Cola came top of the table at supporting women's rights.

Unilever, the owner of Ben & Jerry's and Lipton got thumbs up from Oxfam for their support of small-scale farmers.

But Oxfam says even the top-ranking companies still have a long way to go.

"It will take time for them to reverse a 100-year history of relying on cheap land and labor to make mass products at huge profits but at high social and environmental costs. The race to the top is under way and there are clear leaders and laggards," Byanyima added.

Read more: Unwrapping the chocolate industry
Read more: Do you put your ethics where your mouth is?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1236 GMT (2036 HKT)
Europe's deteriorating relationship with Russia has hit the region's growth, even before new food sanctions begin to bite.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
With cyberattacks on the rise and here to stay, it's a modern-day challenge for people and businesses to get smarter about preventing them.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Airstrikes, rebels seizing control of oil fields, plus a severe refugee crisis are a recipe for market panic. So why are Iraq oil prices stable?
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
Evidence points to pro-Russian separatists as perpetrators of the attack and Vladimir Putin is facing uncomfortable questions, David Clark writes.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1440 GMT (2240 HKT)
The biggest Ebola outbreak in history is taking its toll in Western Africa, hitting some of West Africa's most vulnerable economies.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 0902 GMT (1702 HKT)
Macau has overtaken Switzerland in the wealth stakes, being named the world's fourth richest territory by the World Bank.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1447 GMT (2247 HKT)
Saudi Arabian Bateel brand is best known for its delectable dates but it now has more than a dozen cafes and a new bakery in the works.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material. It is so dark the human eye can't discern its shape and form.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 2109 GMT (0509 HKT)
American burger joints have sprung up all over London, but how to know which ones are best? CNN's Jim Boulden investigates.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
At the last football World Cup, it was all about 3D. This time around, it's nothing less than 4K.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT)
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
Exotic animals are becoming a profitable business opportunity for Nicaraguan entrepreneurs. CNN's Rafael Romo reports.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
Iraq produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. But the current crisis is putting all this in danger.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT)
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
The UK capital promotes its tech stars and shows it can compete with Silicon Valley. Here are five companies that pitch to make it big.
ADVERTISEMENT