* Oxfam assessed policies on workers, water, land, climate
* Food and beverage companies under scrutiny over supply
* AB Foods rejects findings
* Oxfam seeks to encourage "race to top"
ZURICH, Feb 26 Associated British Foods
scored lowest among 10 of the top food and beverage companies
assessed for their social and environmental impact on poor
countries, development group Oxfam said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Nestle and Unilever ranked
highest for their policies on seven areas assessed by Oxfam as
critical to sustainable agriculture: women, small-scale farmers,
farm workers, water, land, climate change and transparency.
Oxfam said in the report that Nestle and Unilever had done
more to tackle social and environmental risks within their
supply chains than companies it ranked less favourably including
AB Foods and Kellogg Co.
Big food and beverage companies have come under increasing
scrutiny in recent years over their sourcing of raw materials,
courting criticism on issues ranging from child labour on cocoa
farms to the impact of palm oil plantations on rain forests.
Oxfam said it had launched the "Behind the Brands" campaign
to try to assess "ubiquitous" declarations of sustainability
made by food and beverage companies as well as a proliferation
of corporate social responsibility programmes.
"There are enormous gaps in terms of basic transparency
which makes it very difficult to hold these companies to
account," Raymond Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America, told
a phone conference for journalists.
"The goal is not to criticise these companies for poor
performance but encourage a 'race to the top'."
Oxfam ranked Nestle first, Unilever second, Coca-Cola third,
PepsiCo fourth, Mars fifth, Danone and
Mondelez International joint sixth, Kellogg Co
and General Mills join eighth, and AB Foods in 10th
AB Foods, whose brands include Twinings tea, Ryvita crackers
and Ovaltine cocoa drink, rejected its ranking.
"We treat local producers, communities and the environment
with the utmost respect," an AB Foods spokesman said.
"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."
Jane Nelson, director of the Corporate Social
Responsibility Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School, said the 10
companies Oxfam had studied had already made major progress
in improving their impact on poor farmers.
"These 10 are among the most respected and best managed
companies in the world," she told the Oxfam call. "They are well
ahead of other companies in the agricultural system."
Among positive developments, Oxfam highlighted the fact that
all of the companies, bar Coca-Cola, have signed up to more
sustainable policies on palm oil. It also praised Unilever's
target to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.