* Assessed policies on workers, water, land, climate change
* Companies under scrutiny over supply chains
* Thousands of consumers bombard brands with messages
* Investment funds also demand action
* Oxfam sees financial reasons to do "right thing"
By Emma Thomasson
BERLIN, Feb 26 Many of the world's top food and
drink companies are taking steps to improve their social and
environmental impact on poor countries, although there is still
much more to do, development group Oxfam said on Wednesday.
Oxfam launched its "Behind the Brands" campaign a year ago
to try to assess the real impact of food and drink companies on
the countries where they source raw materials, especially given
a proliferation of public commitments to sustainability.
Oxfam said the companies it ranked as most responsible -
Nestle, Unilever and Coca-Cola - had
extended their lead over the others, while General Mills
had replaced Associated British Foods in last place.
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 its campaign had been helped by thousands of
consumers bombarding brands with messages calling for action as
well as a joint statement from 31 investment funds representing
nearly $1.5 trillion of assets reiterating the Oxfam demands.
"Those that are not moving fast enough will pay a price with
the public, investors and communities in the field," Chris
Jochnick, director of Oxfam's private sector work, told Reuters.
"Those companies that move first should see benefits in
long-term access to sustainable supply chains which should be
reflected in their share price."
Oxfam said the biggest 10 food and beverage companies it
studied had huge impact given that their annual revenues of more
than $450 billion are equivalent to the national income of all
the world's low-income countries combined.
Oxfam ranked the firms on their policies in areas it sees as
critical to sustainable agriculture: women, small-scale farmers,
farm workers, water, land, climate change and transparency.
Nestle came first, Unilever second, Coca-Cola third,
Mondelez International and PepsiCo joint
fourth, Mars and Danone joint sixth, Kellogg Co
eighth, AB Foods ninth and General Mills in 10th place.
Jochnick said General Mills had lost ground due to a lower
score for transparency as it was not publishing as much
information as before on its water policies.
General Mills said it had a strong focus on sustainability
and believed its efforts merited a better score, noting the
Oxfam score was based only on publicly available information.
"We are working to conserve and protect the resources upon
which our business depends around the world, and we continue to
improve our products and practices broadly across our supply
chain," it said in an emailed statement.
AB Foods said it had taken note of the report and that the
company was working hard to ensure suppliers met the highest
ethical standards. "We continue to place ethical behaviour and
practice at the heart of what we do," a spokesman said.
Oxfam said the biggest improvements in company policies had
come on policies over land, gender equality and climate change.
"What initially sparks companies' attention is reputational
concern but as they dig into these issues they have started to
find financial reasons to do the right thing," Jochnick said.