Food and agriculture benchmark: Sustainable systems are still out of reach

Anna Triponel

October 4, 2021
Our key takeaway: The top 350 companies in the food and agriculture sector employ more than 23 million people around the world, make up more than half of all global revenue in the sector and have disproportionate impacts on climate and the environment. Yet there are “worrying gaps in the industry’s preparedness for climate change, progress on human rights and contribution to nutritious diets.”

The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) published the results of its inaugural Food and Agricultural Benchmark, ranking the environmental, social and nutritional impacts of the 350 most influential companies in the food and agriculture sector globally:

  • Some leading companies, with most companies operating outside the spotlight: WBA finds that only 11 of the 350 companies scored over 50/100 in their assessment. Unilever, Nestlé, Danone, OCP, Anheuser-Busch InBev, PepsiCo, Tesco, Fonterra, Diageo and Firmenich top the overall ranking. However, WBA finds that most companies are operating poorly: 229 out of 350 are performing below 25/100 – of which 32 companies score 0/100. These companies do not acknowledge their responsibility for their impacts, and do not disclose relevant information. WBA notes that “We need these companies to come to the table, take part in the conversation and share the risks and opportunities they face, so that ultimately they can achieve meaningful impact in the system in which they operate.” This is particularly timely in light of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit which is “a pinnacle moment to address the interconnectedness of food systems with global challenges such as hunger, climate change and poverty.”
  • Walking the talk and integrating sustainability into a business’s strategy: WBA finds that 27% of companies do not disclose any sustainability strategy. Of those that do, only 26% are setting holistic time-bound targets. On a positive note, “55 companies are linking their top management remuneration policy to performance around sustainable development metrics, of which five companies are going even further and linking remuneration to sustainable development metrics across all three benchmark dimensions (environment, nutrition and social inclusion).” When it comes to stakeholder engagement, 18 companies “are conducting stakeholder engagement in a holistic, consistent and strategic manner”- with the vast majority yet to catch up.
  • Impacts on workers and communities, environment and consumers not fully considered. The WBA finds that “the food business is failing people.” “The vast majority lack comprehensive commitments and procedures prohibiting child and forced labour in their operations and supply chain.” This gap extends to human rights due diligence: “Less than 10% of companies demonstrate having a full human rights due diligence mechanism in place.” Despite its significant environmental and climate impacts, the sector is not adequately addressing these impacts. WBA finds that only 26 companies “are actively working to reduce emissions from their direct activities (scope 1 and 2) through science-based targets, aligned with the 1.5-degree trajectory as recommended by the Paris Agreement.” Worryingly, “202 companies do not publicly calculate” scope 3 emissions, whilst these indirect emissions from supply chains account for over 80% of total emissions for food companies. “189 companies have not set targets to achieve deforestation and conversion-free supply chains for their high-risk commodities.” When it comes to consumers, the benchmark focuses on access to healthy food as one key indicator of responsible business in the sector, recognising that these 350 companies are among the most influential in the sector and “impact what ends up on the plate of the billions of consumers across the world.” However, WBA reports that companies are not “prioritising nutritious food choices” in their core business and strategy: “80% of companies in scope do not provide evidence of improving accessibility and affordability of nutritious foods.”

For more, see World Benchmarking Alliance, 2021 Food and Agriculture Benchmark (September 2021)

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