nly 12 out of 350 agri-food companies understand their responsibilities in the food system, according to new benchmarking. That’s just 3.4% of multinationals currently able to drive the UN’s sustainable development agenda forward, as required.
The World Benchmarking Alliance report tracks the 350 most influential food and agriculture companies, worth $8.7 trillion – or more than half of global revenue in this sector. Each company’s baseline assessment can be found in the report released on December 9th.
The companies, “lack the commitments and targets urgently needed to protect the planet and improve human well-being,” it says. “… These companies display a weak or incomplete understanding as corporate citizens [contributing] to a healthy, sustainable and more equitable food system.”
Currently half do not disclose targets to reduce greenhouse emissions
The 12 companies deemed to understand their responsibilities are: Arla Foods, CNH Industrial, Danone, Heineken, McDonald’s, Nestlé, OCP, Orkla, PepsiCo, ThaiBev, Unilever and Yara.
The baseline benchmarking acknowledges that agri-food plays a key role in driving systemic change across environmental, nutritional and social inclusion targets. The run-up to the UN Food Systems Summit next year provides an opportunity for companies to set ambitious goals. And the G7 and COP26 are also expected to put food systems front and centre.
The sector’s use of natural resources – often not acknowledged in corporate accounting – co-opt about one half of the world’s ice-and desert-free land and 70% of its fresh water.
The report said agri-food is responsible for one quarter of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions globally. But it’s responding so poorly on improvements that the sector alone could prevent Paris Agreement climate targets from being met.
40% make no commitment to eliminate child labour or forced labour
Currently, half of the companies assessed do not disclose targets or report on progress to reduce greenhouse emissions. Only 7% demonstrate commitments to environmental stewardship.
While agri-food is the world’s largest employer, more than one third of the companies assessed do not acknowledge the human rights of workers in their supply chains and only 13% of companies commit to paying employees a living wage.
Startlingly, 40% have made no public commitment to eliminate child and forced labour in their operations or supply chain.
According to estimates by the International Labour Organisation, 152 million children are in child labour and 25 million adults are in forced labour, the vast majority of which is in agri-food.
On the subject of nutrition, not one retailer demonstrated commitments to help consumers make healthier choices.
Governments such as Mexico and the United Kingdom are introducing legislation making it mandatory to issue warnings on unhealthy foods, but companies must take ownership of their nutrition strategies, it said. This means shifting from compliance to leadership.
Building on this baseline research, the Food and Agriculture Benchmark will assess corporate performance and impact halfway through next year. The companies’ progress will then be measured in the decade ahead.