Big Food Firms Aren’t Doing Enough To Reduce GHGs or Protect Human Rights

23 September 2021 by Acre
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Just 26 of the world’s 350 largest food and agriculture firms are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, a new benchmark reveals.

The Food and Agriculture Benchmark has been launched by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), after a year of research, which assesses the entire food value chain from farm to fork.

The Alliance ranked 350 companies on their environmental, nutritional and social impact in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which highlighted gaps in how the industry adjusts to climate change, human rights progression and contribution to healthy diets. 

It flagged up that 304 of the companies are not committed enough to eliminate forced labor and 202 lack the commitment to end child labor.

The assessed companies are all part of WBA’s SDG2000 list, which measures the 2000 most influential companies in the world working towards achieving the SDGs.

With such emphasis on the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), WBA discovered 123 of the firms had not set targets for reducing their GHGs, despite the recent report from the IPCC highlighting that extreme temperatures will likely exceed the threshold for agriculture, destroying livelihoods and fostering world hunger. 

The Benchmark revealed that only 26 of the 350 companies are actively focusing on lowering 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.

In addition, indirect greenhouse gas emissions from supply chains (scope 3) make up around 80 percent of the emissions for food companies. However, 202 companies do not publicly report on scope 3, or 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.

Of the 350 companies assessed, 318 failed to show how they identify, assess and act on key human rights issues, while 309 do not have comprehensive measures in place to prevent forced labour across their business activities and supply chains.

Ms de Bourbon de Parme added: “The mechanisms of our global food system are linked to poverty. 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”.

WBA found that food retailers, restaurants and foodservice providers are among the lowest performing industries, with 49 out of 62 companies and 22 out of 24 respectively, failing to disclose any policies in place to advertise healthy food responsibly.

However, hope is on the horizon, as a few leaders – ranked in the top 10 – have demonstrated commitment, targets and impact. They form a small group of companies from almost all sectors of the value chain and are proof that environmental, social and nutritional issues can be addressed by all companies in the food system.

Ms de Bourbon de Parme said: “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”.

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