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Danielle works in the Private Sector Team in Oxfam GB’s Campaigns, Policy and Influencing Team. Her role involves working to influence private sector policies and practices  and holding companies to account for the impact they have on poor people’s lives. We spoke to her about the ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign that Oxfam have been running. 

What is the ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign?

The production of agricultural commodities within our global food system is associated with significant negative social and environmental impacts. For example, many smallholder farmers producing crops such as cocoa and coffee live in poverty, with climate change threatening to further undermine their livelihoods. The Behind the Brands campaign provides consumers with the information they need to hold the world’s ten biggest food and beverage companies to account. The campaign scores and ranks the Big 10 - Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever - on their policies and commitments across seven themes relevant to their supply chains. By doing this, Oxfam aims to create a “race to the top” encouraging the Big 10 to improve their policies - and it’s working.

How did you initially establish the strengths and weaknesses of various companies?

At the heart of the campaign is a scorecard tool which includes an extensive set of questions used to score and rank companies across seven themes – water, land, gender, smallholder farmers, climate change, transparency and agricultural workers. The questions focus on agricultural policies and commitments and consider whether companies are aware of key issues; whether they are monitoring, measuring and reporting relevant information; whether they have made commitments to manage the issues; and whether they are asking their suppliers to manage the issues. While Oxfam provides companies with an opportunity to review their assessment, the entire assessment is based on publicly available information.

The Behind the Brands Scorecard after the first two years of the campaign.
© Source: Oxfam International

Why did you choose those particular criteria for the ‘scorecard’?

The seven themes cover critical areas relating to sustainable agricultural production, which affect the livelihoods of farmers and agricultural workers hidden within global food and beverage supply chains. For example, we specifically consider women workers and farmers as women often face disproportionate challenges and it is therefore important that companies take additional steps to support women in their supply chains. Climate change is highly relevant to agriculture, with the food and beverage sector being both a significant contributor to climate change as well as highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Transparency is essential in demonstrating to consumers and other stakeholders that issues are effectively managed and therefore that companies are accountable for what is happening in their supply chains. The campaign also covers policies relating to land and water, (for example, rights, access and sustainable use) smallholder farmers and agricultural workers.

Were there any results from the initial scorecard in February 2013 that surprised or especially concerned you?

When Oxfam first assessed companies against the scorecard, companies were consistently scoring low in the gender and land themes. To address this, we launched two focused campaigns tackling each of these themes separately. In Spring 2013, we asked Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé to ‘look, listen and act’ for women cocoa farmers and their families. Following pressure from more than 100,000 people, all three companies made important commitments as a first step to tackling gender inequality. We then shifted our attention to land and asked Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and ABF to make commitments to supporting land rights within their supply chains. All three companies have now committed to asking their suppliers to apply the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent for all communities when acquiring land. In the latest update of the scorecard, released in March 2015, land is now the third highest scoring theme.

Cocoa farmers and their family in Cote d’Ivoire. Oxfam’s campaign aims to encourage companies including Nestlé to improve the livelihoods of farmers such as cocoa farmers
© Nestlé

Some big brands have changed their stance in recent years to appear more socially and environmentally aware. Why do you think this has happened?

Brands are increasingly being held to account, not only by non-government organisations such as Oxfam but also by consumers, retailers, investors and their own employees. For example, many consumers are increasingly concerned about where the products they buy come from and how they have been produced. Companies are therefore being challenged to demonstrate how they are managing social and environmental issues across their supply chains. The rise of social media and the internet has meant that negative campaigns against companies can spread rapidly, hurting the image and reputation of household brands. However, as the latest update of the Behind the Brands scorecard shows, there is still a significant difference between the commitments of the leaders and the laggards. If we were to assess companies beyond the Big 10, it is likely that the gap between the top and bottom would be even bigger.

Activism and business used to be at opposing ends of the development debate – are we now seeing a move towards more collaborative working?

Organisations seeking to influence corporate behaviour take different approaches to meeting their goals. Some chose to focus on publicly naming and shaming bad practices, while others take a more collaborative approach to addressing issues. Oxfam engages with companies to support the effective management of social and environmental issues but also continues to hold companies to account when their policies and practices are not sufficient. The Behind the Brands campaign is an example of this, whereby we publicly hold companies to account where we do not think they are doing enough and we also engage in dialogue with companies to discuss how they could go further.

You have been encouraging consumers to take to social media rather than boycott goods and brands – why is this?

Instead of asking consumers to boycott products, we prefer an approach that gives consumers the information and tools to ask companies to improve. We recognise that the Big 10 can play a role in improving conditions within their supply chains, particularly through their influence on suppliers, who are often large traders. We also recognise that these companies can play an important role in advocating for sector-level change. We therefore do not think that boycotting these companies’ brands is the most effective way to improve conditions within supply chains. Instead we want people to ask companies to improve their policies and practices. Social media provides a means for consumers to be heard by these companies, and helps to generate conversations around the issues covered in Behind the Brands.

The Big 10 in the Behind the Brands campaign encompass hundreds of everyday product
© Oxfam International

What success stories have come about as a result of this campaign from Oxfam?

To date, Oxfam has focused in-depth on three aspects of the scorecard – gender, land and climate change mitigation. All three campaigns have resulted in new commitments from the companies targeted. For example, when Oxfam asked ABF, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to improve the way they manage land rights, all three companies made new commitments. Significantly, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and most recently ABF’s African sugar subsidiary, Illovo, have all committed to a zero tolerance for land grabs. The implementation of this commitment will uphold the rights of communities and farmers within these companies’ supply chains to access and live off land. The campaign has also generated space for dialogue on the issues covered in the scorecard.

View the interactive version of the scorecard

Key Words

Land Grab
The buying or leasing of large areas of land for commercial farming with little regard for the wellbeing of the people who previously used it to sustain their own livelihoods.

Non Government Organisation (NGO)
An organisation or body that operates in a not-for-profit and apolitical fashion.

A farmer who owns just a small plot of land and usually only uses it to sustain the food needs of their own family.

Development that aims to increase standards of living without destroying the environment while safeguarding natural resources for future generations.

Lesson Ideas

Students can bring in one of their favourite foods stuffs from one of the Big 10 mentioned in the article. Using the company’s website, they can try to trace an ingredient and gain a greater understanding of the people who might have farmed this ingredient. Students should consider how much the farmers might have been paid as well as the number of hours they might have to work.

Using the Oxfam website, students can draw up a list of meausres a new company would have to make in order to score a perfect ‘70’ on the scorecard. Students can then discuss how feasible these practices in combination are for a new company to carry out.

Ask students to consider another category to add to the seven already on the scorecard. Students will need to justify their idea by saying how it contributes to a concept of sustainability in farming and retailing.



Danielle was interviewed in April 2015