Oxfam Gives Big Food Companies Bad Behavior Grades | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Oxfam Gives Big Food Companies Bad Behavior Grades

Do failing grades inspire more effort? Oxfam hopes so. The activist group on behalf of the poor has just handed out report cards to 10 of the world's top food companies, grading their commitments to protect the environment and treat people fairly.

Oxfam doesn't grade on the curve, evidently. Every company flunked. But two European-based companies, Nestle and Unilever, were at least better than the others.

Both companies have policies that are supposed to ensure that workers around the globe are treated fairly, for instance, and they're better than average at trying to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Nestle (Taster's Choice; Perrier) got especially high grades for its efforts to conserve water. Unilever (Lipton Tea; Hellman's mayonnaise) got extra credit for policies aimed at helping small farmers.

Oxfam also assigned grades for how companies protect women's rights, contribute to climate change and provide information about their suppliers.

Associated British Foods (Mazola corn oil; Twinings Tea) came in at the bottom of Oxfam's rankings, but Kellogg's (Pop Tarts) and General Mills (Cheerios, Yoplait) weren't much better.

These grades, it should be noted, are based on official policies, not actual behavior. Neither Oxfam nor any other independent group has the resources to travel the globe to see firsthand how these policies are implemented on, say, tea plantations in remote corners of Sri Lanka and Mozambique.

Oxfam calls its new campaign "Behind the Brands." This strategy — targeting companies that own popular consumer brands — is increasingly popular among environmentalists and other groups devoted to social change. Jason Clay, a vice president of the World Wildlife Fund, laid out the reasons a couple of years ago in a TED talk.

It comes down to what's practical, Clay said. We could try to convince millions of farmers to work differently. We could try to persuade billions of consumers to buy different products. But it's a lot easier to put pressure on a few dozen companies — huge conglomerates that order commodities from every corner of the globe.

Those companies are extraordinarily sensitive when it comes to the image of their consumer brands. They already have very specific rules for their suppliers when it comes to quality and safety. How about associating those brands with environmental quality and worker well-being?

Oxfam says it will be happy to revise its grades when companies improve their performance.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Look, Mom, I Finally Made It To Broadway!

NPR's Michel Martin will sit down with a panel of award-winning playwrights to ask about diversity in theater. Follow here or join us on Twitter on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, using #NPRMichel.
NPR

Sweet: Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme Pump Up Pledge On Palm Oil

Two major doughnut chains have bowed to consumer pressure to better police their palm oil purchases. Environmentalists say it's a win for consumers, trees and animals.
NPR

Billionaire GOP Donor Finally Opens Checkbook For 2014

Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate, is giving $20 million to GOP-oriented "social welfare" groups for use in midterm campaigns.
NPR

Look, Mom, I Finally Made It To Broadway!

NPR's Michel Martin will sit down with a panel of award-winning playwrights to ask about diversity in theater. Follow here or join us on Twitter on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, using #NPRMichel.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.