See all results of the Food and Agriculture Benchmark

Press release

Big food companies failing on climate and human rights

  • New benchmark shows that only 26 of the world’s 350 largest food and agriculture companies are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement
  • 304 of the 350 companies do not have a sufficient commitment to eliminate forced labour; 202 lack this to stamp out child labour
  • 201 companies assessed do not provide evidence of marketing strategies that prioritise healthy foods
  • The best performing companies in the benchmark are proof that leadership and positive change can and must come from every part of the value chain

London / Amsterdam, 21 September 2021: The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) has today launched its Food and Agriculture Benchmark, the first assessment of the entire food value chain, from farm to fork.

After a year of research, WBA ranked 350 companies on their environmental, nutritional and social impact in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The findings reveal worrying gaps in the industry’s adaptation to climate change, progress on human rights and contribution to healthy diets.

WBA found that 123 of 350 of the largest food and agriculture companies have not set targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. This is despite the clear urgency of the recent IPCC report, highlighting that “it is likely extreme temperatures will exceed the threshold for agriculture” destroying livelihoods and fostering world hunger.

The Food and Agriculture Benchmark revealed that only 26 of the 350 companies are working to reduce emissions from their direct activities (scope 1 and 2) through science-based targets, aligned with the 1.5◦C warming trajectory set by the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, indirect greenhouse gas emissions from supply chains (scope 3) make up around 80% of the emissions for food companies. However, 202 companies do not publicly report on scope 3, let alone set targets to reduce emissions.

Viktoria de Bourbon de Parme, Lead Food and Agriculture Transformation at WBA said:

The world is becoming ever-more conscious of the environmental destruction our food system is causing. Yet, many companies are not feeling the need to adapt, and smallholder farmers are hit hardest by the climate crisis. Changing temperatures, unreliable rainfall and land degradation are reinforcing poverty and devastating the natural landscape. For the sake of people and our planet, food companies’ denial must end now.

Leaving people behind

Not only is food a necessity of life, but it is also the source of millions of livelihoods. The 350 companies in scope on the benchmark account for more than half the global food and agriculture revenue, they directly employ over 23 million people and impact many of the 500 million smallholder farmers through their supply chains. Despite the existence of global frameworks – such as the United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – WBA’s data shows a shocking lack of action from most of the food and agriculture companies on stamping out child and forced labour.

To address this, all companies are expected to conduct appropriate human rights due diligence. But of the 350 companies assessed, 318 failed to show how they identify, assess and act on key human rights issues. The vast majority of companies (309) do not have comprehensive measures in place to prevent forced labour across their business activities and supply chains. Child labour also continues to plague our food system – over half of companies (202) do not explicitly require their supply chain to prohibit child labour.

The mechanisms of our global food system are linked to poverty,” adds de Bourbon de Parme. “Without a living wage, families may be forced to put children to work and cannot afford healthier foods. As climate change reinforces the cycle of poverty, the situation appears desperate.

Food security and healthy food choices not prioritised

The private sector plays a significant part in ensuring our diets are optimal for our health. Nutritious diets are not a consumer choice when three quarters of the benchmarked companies do not make any commitment to improve the accessibility and affordability of healthy foods.

WBA found that 201 of companies that advertise to consumers are not providing evidence of marketing strategies that prioritise healthy foods, especially when marketing to children. Food retailers, restaurants and food service providers are among the lowest performing industries, with 49 out of 62 companies and 22 out of 24 respectively, failing to disclose if they have any policy in place to advertise responsibly.

Despite a generalised lack of action in the industry, there are a few leaders – ranked in the top 10 – who are showing commitments, measurable targets and meaningful impact. This small group includes companies from almost all sectors of the value chain, and it is evidence that environmental, social and nutritional issues can and must be addressed by all companies in the food system.

There is also reason for optimism,” Viktoria adds. “Interestingly, Unilever, Nestlé and Danone top this ranking. When companies take action to improve the food system, we see positive change. Although we believe there is room for companies to improve their actions to deliver on the SDGs. It’s clear that for conditions to improve for the millions of people who depend on agriculture for their livelihood, targets and commitments set by companies will have to be further implemented across supply chains and at farm level. We need all companies to engage across their supply chains to transform food systems.

The full Food and Agriculture Benchmark is publicly available here. It is the first of its kind globally to do such a broad assessment, both in terms of companies (spanning the entirety of the food value chain) and across topics (environmental, nutrition, social). All companies assessed are part of WBA’s SDG2000, a list measuring the 2000 most influential companies in the world towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Additional industry-specific insights such as the Access to Seeds Index are also available, and the Seafood Stewardship Index will be published in October.

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