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Danone’s missed opportunity to be legenDAIRY on climate change

We are in the home stretch for the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. And as microphones and screens are being tested, tables cleaned and chairs lined up in Le Bourget for the big meetings, French food giant Danone released their new climate policy.  Sadly though, the new policy is disappointingly weak both in its commitment to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and  lack of investment in vulnerable farmers and communities to adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate change.

As the biggest food company in the country that is hosting the historic climate talks, as a global business that has been a big contributor to climate change through its emissions from operations and supply chains, and as a business that is directly impacted by the impacts of climate change, Danone had a unique responsibility to act now, and to act boldly. Unfortunately, its recently released policy fails to do just that.

  1. On mitigation, Danone’s target misses the mark on three critical fronts. While the company says it recognizes the imperatives of climate science, Danone doesn’t set science-based targets (or even come close), which are urgently needed from companies – especially global ones –  to keep temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius, as the world’s carbon budget shrinks.
  2. It doesn’t include any clear and immediate commitments for tackling Scope 3 agricultural emissions(upstream GHG emissions associated with the productions of raw materials such as milk and sugar) in its supply chain, despite the fact that they account for close to 60 percent of the company’s carbon footprint.
  3. It continues to set intensity-based targets, rather than absolute targets – a glaring gap in the policy. In addition, Danone only commits to start reducing absolute emissions by 2025; which means the company could continue emitting more greenhouse gases until then. Unfortunately for all of us, the climate clock is ticking and action cannot wait for another 10 years.

The fact that their climate policy doesn’t measure up in such key areas, shows how far behind it is compared to its’ Behind the Brands peers.  General Mills – the maker of Yoplait yogurt – for example, has already adopted science-based targets to reduce emissions across its value chain, while Danone remains one of two food companies of the 10 largest with a mitigation target that is not absolute, not science-based, and does not include scope 3 agricultural emissions.  If Yoplait can do it, why can’t Danone?

Danone’s new policy also does little to invest in the farmers in its supply chain to become more resilient in the face of climate change. Small-scale farmers in less developed countries are the most likely to be affected by the impacts of climate change. As temperatures rise and floods and droughts become more common, it is their livelihoods that are most at risk. Unfortunately, companies like Danone benefit from a highly unequal relationship with small scale farmers who produce the milk or grow the cocoa that ends up in their products. Instead of recognizing this crucial relationship and Danone’s responsibility to ensure their suppliers, particularly small scale farmers, have the means to cope with climate change impacts, the company’s resilience policy focuses on the sustainable diets of its consumers and providing extension services to farmers – but neither of these cut to the heart of the issue.

What small-scale farmers need is a living income that enables them to bounce back when they are faced with economic or weather related shocks. This means, farmers should be offered fair deals, stable prices, the ability to organize, and access to tools and training that will enable them to adapt their agricultural practices to climate change.  All of which, the company is basically silent on. The company presents the issue as a “dilemma” between “fair prices for farmers” and “more affordable products for consumers.” This is not a dilemma though – farmers need and deserve a fair share of the value they create. End of story.

Another problem with Danone’s climate policy is that while it showcases boutique initiatives like carbon offset agriculture and forestry projects and the Livelihood Fund for Family Farming, launched in June this year, it doesn’t offer a vision of how it will transform its own business. For instance, Danone’s emission reduction plans which center around its zero net emissions approach means that the company could neutralize its carbon footprint by investing in carbon credits without making any real effort to reduce emissions within its own operations or value chain.  While it is good for companies to invest in such initiatives, they are and remain marginal approaches and don’t fundamentally transform the business practices of the company itself. Without fundamental changes in business practices, these initiatives run the risk of being tantamount to green-wash.

Finally, the policy says nothing about Danone’s role as the largest French food company in advocating for a strong climate deal ahead of the COP 21, especially since the world will gather on its doorstep for pivotal global climate negotiations in the coming weeks.

At this critical juncture, Oxfam is calling on Danone to come up with a policy before COP21 that shows the company’s commitment towards climate change by:

  • Setting targets to immediately reduce its emissions from operations as well as from its supply chain, in particular its emissions associated with agriculture.
  • Enabling small-scale farmers to become truly resilient by earning a living income.
  • Advocating for a strong deal in Paris.

As the largest French food company – and one of the largest in the world – the unveiling of a climate policy that fails on so many fronts is unacceptable.  Danone’s climate policy has really missed an opportunity for the dairy giant. It could have shown leadership and raised the bar for other companies, while other companies have stepped up their commitment on climate change, Danone has emerged as a climate laggard. Danone says its yogurt makes you “smile from the inside,” but this new climate policy gives us nothing to smile about.

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