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Turning the way food companies do business upside down

It’s not only Diana Ross who is left singing “upside down you’re turning me…” In the last twelve months Oxfam and hundreds of thousands of people around the world have joined together to shake-up the way the food and beverage industry impact people and planet. And it’s working! Things are changing. Things are turning “upside down…”

With the exception of General Mills, all companies have improved their overall scores since February 2013 – thanks to your campaigning. The call on the 10 biggest food and drink companies to use the incredible power they hold has seen the way they do business turned “upside down and inside out”.

The initial scores, released in February 2013, were extremely disappointing – especially when it came to two key issues: none of the Big 10 sufficiently addressed inequality faced by women working on farms around the world, and not one company was adequately ensuring their suppliers respect the land rights of communities.

So what have over 395,000 actions, investors representing billions of dollars, and other friends in civil society achieved?

Do right by women

Thanks to action taken by over 100,000 of you, Nestlé, Mondelez and Mars each made important commitments to eliminate the challenges facing women in their supply chains.

And after your actions highlighted the importance of this issue, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez, Nestle and Unilever signed up to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, a commitment at the highest level to make serious efforts to improve conditions for women.

Stop land grabs

A year ago, land rights issues were largely ignored in the policies of the ‘Big 10’. 6 out of the 10 companies scored just 1 point on land and the injustice of land grabs that lead to people being left homeless and hungry was barely recognised.

But after 270,000 of you joined the call for land justice, Coca-Cola stepped up and committed to zero tolerance for land grabs throughout their supply chain. As part of this, Coca-Cola is conducting human rights impact assessments which include the evaluation of land rights in Colombia and Guatemala. You can track progress on their promises on Oxfam’s land roadmap.

Coca-Cola is not alone in hearing the call for justice. In total, 7 companies have improved their scores on land  with average scores increasing by 107%  Aside from Coke, 4 of the Big 10 (Associated British Foods, Kellogg’s, Nestle and Unilever) stepped up to commit to the principle of free, prior and informed consent of communities to ensure that they have a say over their land. After hundreds of you sent messages directly to Twinings, a brand owned by ABF, we saw an improved land policy released the very next day- proving the power of your actions.

Thanks to your pressure we’re currently in dialogue with PepsiCo and, we hope, close to a commitment from them.

The key reason that there are some scores to celebrate? You.

Your voices are a powerful force for change. You’ve proven the old saying that ‘no company is too big to listen to its customers’. Or my favourite, that the ‘customer is always right’.

Already nearly 400,000 actions have been taken by people like you, committed to seeing companies change for the better. And you can see by the scores that it’s working.

But there’s still a huge way to go. Where you haven’t spoken out, there’s been little progress – for instance on issues like farmers, water or, workers. Even on land, combined company scores remain the lowest of all themes.  We need to keep standing up and challenging business to turn, “upside down”…

Next up we focus on one of the single most urgent issues of our time. At the moment, the forecast is bleak. Climate change is already having a massive impact on the lives of farmers and communities around the world. The scale of the climate challenge is way bigger than these companies’ efforts to reduce their impact, while extreme weather events like the Philippines Typhoon Haiyan and the historic drought in California show worrying examples of what could be in store.

2014 must be a year of bold climate action from everyone – and we need you to join us.

Get ready for the next action launching in May – and until then, share our video and show the world that we really can start to turn things upside down when enough of us speak out.

By Cassie Eades, Global Campaigner – Grow Campaign, Oxfam GB

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