THE world's largest food companies are failing to meet ethical standards, a report has warned.
Leading global brands such as Nestle, Mars and Coca-Cola are failing to ensure the well-being of the workers who produce their products and are continuing to profit from a broken system they should be helping to fix, the study by Oxfam claims.
The charity has compiled a Behind the Brands scorecard, which rates the "big 10" food companies in seven categories - the transparency of their supply chains and operations, how they ensure the rights of workers, how they protect women's rights, the management of water and land use, their policies to reduce the impacts of climate change and how they ensure the rights of the farmers who grow their ingredients.
The company with the lowest score - just 13 out of 70 - was food giant Associated British Foods (ABF), which owns well-known brands including Kingsmill, Silverspoon and Ovaltine.
It scored just one mark out of 10 in its treatment of land, women and climate change, while the highest scores it managed to achieve was three, in relation to workers and transparency.
In joint second lowest place were Kellogg's and General Mills, which owns Old El Paso, Haagen-Dazs and Nature Valley, with both scoring 16 out of 70.
Neither ABF and Kellogg's have addressed land rights concerns or the poverty and lack of opportunity for women working in the supply chain, while the latter company and General Mills show a lack of transparency in where they source their ingredients, only providing information on where they get their palm oil, Oxfam said.
The company which achieved the highest score was Nestle, with 38 marks.
Oxfam said that while all 10 companies have acknowledged the need for a more just food system and have made commitments to that end, they are still failing to take adequate steps.
The charity said ABF's lack of transparency in its supply chain operations was a major factor in its poor overall performance as few of its brands were able to demonstrate how they do business with suppliers or enforce ethical standards.
While some, such as tea brand Twinings, were noted to have good policies in some areas these were not widespread, the charity claims.
ABF's Patak and Amoy have no public policies requiring suppliers to pay a living wage or support small holder farmers and they fail to require their suppliers to prevent pollution or safeguard water quality, Oxfam said.
Oxfam said that while some of the companies have publicly committed to women's rights none has committed to eliminating discrimination against women throughout their supply chains, and none has adequate policies to protect local communities from land and water grabs despite all of them sourcing commodities plagued by land rights violations, such as palm oil, soy and sugar.
It also found that while all of the companies have taken steps to reduce direct emissions, only five - Mondelez, Danone, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mars - publicly report on agricultural emissions associated with their products.
Oxfam is calling on the public to use social media to put pressure on the food giants to improve their policies, and is today launching the Behind the Brands campaign in more than 12 countries including China, Mexico and Brazil.
Last month Oxfam and 100 other organisations launched the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, which is calling on the G8 to take action to tackle global hunger including asking governments and big corporations to be open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.
Oxfam chief executive Barbara Stocking said: "Consumers have the right to know how their food has been produced and the impact this has on the world's poorest people who are growing the ingredients. Companies have a responsibility to treat local producers, communities and environments with respect.
"It is time the veil of secrecy shrouding this multi-billion dollar industry was lifted.
"The hundreds of brands lining supermarket shelves are predominantly owned by just 10 huge companies which have combined revenues of more than one billion dollars a day whilst one in eight people go to bed hungry every night."
A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola said: "We are aware of Oxfam's Food and Beverage Scorecard and our ranking.
"The Coca-Cola Company is committed to implementing practices throughout our supply chain that advance our sustainable agriculture strategy and support our commitment to build more sustainable communities.
"We believe in creating economic opportunities for women and smallholder farmers as well as stewarding water and other natural resources within the more than 200 countries in which we operate.
"As part of The Coca-Cola Company's commitment to transparent, more sustainable and responsible business practices, we welcome a continuous dialogue with Oxfam that enables us to identify and address global challenges collaboratively."
A Mars spokeswoman said: "Providing affordable and nutritious food for a growing global population is one of the great challenges of our time. As one of the world's leading food companies, Mars plays an important role in this effort and we are proud of the steps we have taken in this area.
"Mars takes a comprehensive approach to this issue, with a strong focus on the entire farming community specifically in the area of cocoa sustainability. Our leadership has had a positive impact on the women, children and families of smallholder farms.
"Oxfam highlights important issues in their report and we look forward to working with them to address these critical issues."