Food Giants Lacking Ethical Standards
A report by Oxfam into the ethical standards of the world’s biggest food companies has found many leading brands to be severely wanting in a variety of areas, including their approach to land management, their relationships with suppliers and their environmental impact.
Companies were scored out of ten in seven different categories to give an overall mark out of 70 representing their ethical credentials. Of the groups that came under review Associated British Foods (ABF), who are behind household names such as Kingsmill, Ovaltine and Silverspoon, scored the lowest with just 13 points, getting only a single point in three different areas: treatment of land, women’s rights and climate change.
Kellogg’s and General Mills, who produce a number of famous lines including Haagen-Daz, also faired badly, scoring 16 out of 70 each. Of the ‘Big 10′ food companies Nestle got the highest score, with 38 – just over 50%.
Oxfam’s chief executive Barbara Stocking said:
It is time the veil of secrecy shrouding this multi-billion dollar industry was lifted. 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. The hundreds of brands lining supermarket shelves are predominantly owned by just 10 huge companies, which have combined revenues of more than $1bn a day while one-in-eight people go to bed hungry every night.
Particular attention was drawn to the lack of information made available by ABF with regard to their supply chains, with some of their brands, including Patak and Amoy, completely lacking any policies requiring their suppliers to pay a living wage to their workers or take measures to avoid excessive polluting.
An ABF spokesman responded to Oxfam’s findings:
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.
Green Steve’s Reaction
Can anyone be surprised by the findings of this report? I’m certainly not.
As we have seen with the horsemeat scandal, there is a race to the bottom in terms of costs (and thus prices) and in any situation where this is the case, companies are likely to be cutting corners or overlooking their duty of care to the environment and their workers.
Unfortunately, as long as there is a demand for cheap food in the marketplace, there is also likely to be a company willing to produce it. This poses a serious problem though because food prices are likely to rise further in the future, giving companies an even bigger incentive to cut corners to keep prices down.
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