Food and beverage companies and their big suppliers have enormous power over people and the environment. What is Oxfam doing about it?

The Behind the Brands Campaign

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign (2013-2016) challenged ten of the largest food and beverage companies to improve their social and environmental policies. The campaign drew over 700,000 actions and spurred new corporate commitments on women’s empowerment, land rights, and climate change, among other topics. Foundational to the campaign was the Behind the Brands company scorecard, which measured the strength of companies’ sustainability and human rights policies and commitments.

Behind the Brands Implementation

Making commitments is only a first step. The true measures of success are improvements in the lives of people living in poverty and protections for our environment and natural resources. Oxfam’s Behind the Brands Implementation Initiative (2016-2020) focused on four areas:

Continuing engagement with Behind the Brands companies on implementation of their commitments.

Oxfam recognizes that implementation is complex and companies need guidance, and that NGOs have a role to play in holding companies accountable to their commitments. Oxfam provided advice and lent expertise to support initiatives where companies sought to do better, while simultaneously monitoring for progress.

Ensuring uptake of commitments through Behind the Brands companies’ supply chains.

Behind the Brands companies must work with and through their suppliers to implement their policies. Oxfam focused on whether a selection of the most influential suppliers to Behind the Brands companies have policies in place that meet their customers’ expectations and adhere to international standards for best practice. See the 2019 and 2021 Agribusiness Scorecard.

Convening, innovating, and monitoring progress in target countries.

Oxfam teams in Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, India, and Malawi engaged Behind the Brands companies and other stakeholders on innovative efforts toward responsible commodity production. Teams also monitored companies’ progress implementing their commitments.

Establishing better food sector governance.

Oxfam engaged with investors on risks in their portfolios related to women, land, and climate in agricultural supply chains. Oxfam also encouraged multi-stakeholder initiatives to more meaningfully engage with workers and communities and strengthen their social criteria.


SHINING A SPOTLIGHT: A critical assessment of food and beverage companies' delivery of sustainability commitments

Have companies taken meaningful steps to implement their Behind the Brands commitments? Oxfam’s report finds that:

  • While companies have taken action at the global level, progress stalls in translating those approaches to countries and through supply chains.
  • There are positive examples and innovations happening in key sourcing countries. Particularly promising are implementation efforts that are locally owned and involve engagement between multinational and national companies, civil society, labor unions, and governments.
  • But key blockages must be addressed – including providing the right incentives, disclosing suppliers, and getting suppliers to take up the agenda – to create change at scale.

To assess companies’ progress, Oxfam commissioned four external evaluations that take an in-depth look at implementation efforts on:

  • Gender equality in cocoa value chains, assessing the completion and quality of the companies’ gender assessments and the resulting action plans.
  • The UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, assessing the extent to which companies that have signed on to the WEPs are taking action to foster gender equality and women’s economic inclusion.
  • Land rights, assessing the extent to which companies have integrated provisions on land rights into their supplier requirements and provided support mechanisms to encourage suppliers to become compliant.
  • Climate change, examining the adoption of science-based emission reduction targets and shifting supplier policies and practices.

Agribusiness Scorecard (2021) The scorecard assesses seven agribusinesses (Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Barry Callebaut, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus Company, Olam International and Wilmar International Limited) to gauge progress and highlight shortcomings across several themes. The results show that:

  • Despite overall increases and some notable policy commitments, the scores remain low.
  • The women, land and climate themes all saw the lowest average increases, indicating that pressure from customers has not moved the sector enough.
  • Overall, the agribusiness sector continues to show a need for deeper policy commitments and implementation on key issues.

Overarching findings are available in Shining a Spotlight and underlying data here.

Looking Ahead: Addressing inequality in food value chains

More equitable global food value chains require urgent, systemic change.

This means moving away from current business models which are founded on short-term profit maximization, towards more holistic business models which internalize social and environmental performance and good governance. 

During the next decade – already dubbed the ‘decade of delivery’ by the United Nations – we must make progress on the systemic drivers of this inequality to protect the only planet we have and to ensure that small-scale farmers and workers get their fair share of the value they create. The global pandemic brings an opportunity for industry to recognize workers’ and farmers’ true value and has shown that doing so would minimize food supply chain disruptions and strengthen business continuity.

Advancing equality in food value chains will be Oxfam’s focus for the next decade.

We will work in and across countries where global food and agriculture companies source their raw commodities, and where Oxfam and Oxfam partners are focusing on promoting equality and resilience in global food value chains. This includes:

  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Ghana
  • Guatemala
  • India
  • Peru
  • Mekong Region

Our work is structured around four interrelated buckets of inequality and four pathways for interventions.

Key Elements to Achieve Equality

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Fair Economies

Share of value, business models, economic resilience, living income/wage

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Equal (Human) Rights

Human rights, land rights, transparency, discrimination, voice

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Climate Justice

Emissions reductions, adaptation, sustainable & resilient agriculture and land use, deforestation

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Gender Justice

Women’s leadership, women’s economic rights, freedom from gender-based violence in value chains

Four pathways for interventions

  • Consumer-end food companies, retailers, suppliers, and financial institutions reduce inequality in food value chains, focusing on climate justice and the priorities of women affected by their value chains.
  • The work and voices of small-scale farmers, food workers, and communities affected by global food value chains are amplified and reinforced. Women exercise more power.
  • Stronger mandatory and voluntary governance of food value chains curbs companies’ power, demonstrated through gender-disaggregated evidence.
  • Consumers and citizens demand gender and climate justice in food value chains.