Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Oxfam: Behind the Brands

Behind the Brands is part of the GROW Campaign from Oxfam. The GROW Campaign "aims to build a better food system: one that sustainably feeds a growing population (estimated to reach nine billion by 2050) and empowers poor people to earn a living, feed their families, and thrive." 

Behind the Brands is a new initiative that aims to get consumers involved in what large food companies are doing. They rate companies based on their transparency, treatment of women, worker treatment on farms in their supply chains, the farmers, the land, the water and the climate. They then communicate the information to consumers and ask consumers to speak up and hold companies accountable for what happens along their supply chains.

The website has interesting information about which companies own which brands, and it's great that Oxfam was able to use a ton of publicly available data and organize and distill it down so that it makes clear a larger picture of what's wrong with our food system. And I'm a firm believer that the food choices we make matter beyond their nutritional makeup - ethical choices are important. 

One of my hesitations behind this initiative is that I feel like it's indirectly supporting these companies. I know it could be argued that Mars as a company is not going away because I choose not to buy M&Ms, and that many people across the world depend on that company for their livelihood, but I still won't support the company with my money for making baby steps in one area while completely ignoring others.

This program also cannot score companies based on the actual conditions that exist on their farms and in their supply chains or the actual treatment of workers on a day to day basis because of the companies' confidentiality. They can only be scored based on their corporate policies. This makes me highly skeptical of what kind of impact this campaign could ever really have on the day to day lives of the people it hopes to impact. I have never worked at a job in my life where the company's corporate policies were a match for my daily work environment. How about you?

It will be interesting to watch this initiative play out, if it stands the test of time. At the very least, a call for consumers to demand better from the companies that supply our food is something we should all get behind.


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  2. It is at least a start but, as you say, who knows where it will go? There was that initiative years ago where the main chocolate purchasers were ostensibly going to change their practices, supply chains, etc to end the practice of child labor in cocoa production by 2005 and, as it has born out, it seems like a load of garbage. Some, like Mars, promised again in 2009 to end it by 2020 but I suspect it's just a ploy to bask in the good PR it brings while doing nothing. The simple fact is that the corporations have probably discovered that it would be a lot more expensive to end exploitation in the supply chain (slaves are, by definition, free labor) and don't want to cut into profits or pass it on to the consumer who, in their own way, is just as culpable in demanding cheap products heedless of who had to be hurt to keep the price down.

    It is highly ironic to me that we talk so much about labor rights in this country but, much like the Founding Fathers considering "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" to really only apply to white landowners, we turn a blind eye to the plight of illegal immigrants, overseas workers, and even the environment. People would flip out if they suddenly had to pay $3 for a Snickers bar so a child half a world away wouldn't have to grow up as a slave. Out of sight, out of mind

  3. I plan on writing about chocolate in the near future.

    I believe it was in Food, Inc. or Fast Food Nation that the plight of the illegal immigrants in the food industry was highlighted. Don't like "illegal immigrants" "taking our jobs"? STOP EATING INDUSTRIAL FOOD.