Currently browsing posts about: CSR(Corporate Social Responsibility)

Feb 27 2013

Oxfam’s new corporate accountability initiative: Behind the Brands

Oxfam America announced a new initiative this week—an accountability project it’s calling Behind the Brands. 

Oxfam is an international relief and development organization.  It is concerned about what the top ten global food companies—Associated British Foods, Coca Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, Pepsico and Unilever—are doing about social and environmental policies to:

  • Ensure the rights of the workers and farmers who grow their ingredients
  • Protect women’s rights
  • Manage land and water use
  • Prevent climate change
  • Ensure the transparency of their supply chains
  • Ensure the transparency of their policies and operations.

Oxfam finds the Big Ten companies to rank from so-so to poor on these measures.  The overall results? 

  • None of the companies are committed to women’s rights throughout their supply chains.
  • None have adequate policies to protect local communities from land and water grabs.
  • All are overly secretive about their agricultural supply chains.
  • Few have policies in place to limit their impact on local water sources.
  • All have taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • None are committed to pay a fair price to farmers (only Unilever has specific supplier guidelines).

Oxfam intends to monitor companies’ responses and to adjust scores accordingly.  It will have plenty of work to do.

Does Oxfam think companies will voluntarily take actions that might reduce their bottom lines?  Will its scorecard encourage voluntary action?  I’m not optimistic.  

The first company to respond, Associated British Foods, terms Oxfam’s charges ”ridiculous.” 

Feb 1 2012

Survey result: low-income families want to eat healthfully too

I was invited yesterday to a press event to announce the results of a survey conducted by Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program.  The program and the survey, It’s Dinnertime: A Report on Low-Income Families’ Efforts to Plan, Shop for and Cook Healthy Meals, are sponsored by the ConAgra Foods Foundation.

I went because I was interested in the survey and also because I admire the work of chef Sara Moulton who, among many other things, works with Share Our Strength on this program.

Cooking Matters is part of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign.  Its goal is to help low-income families increase access to public food resources (food assistance benefits, farmers’ market coupons) and produce healthy meals at low cost.  It does this through a 6-week course that teaches shopping strategies, meal planning, and cooking.

The research produced some important findings, perhaps obvious:

  • 8 out of 10 low-income families cook at home at least 5 times per week, more if they are poorer.
  • 85% of low-income families consider eating healthy meals to be important and realistic.
  • Low-income families struggle to put healthy meals on the table: food costs and preparation time are big barriers.
  • Low-income families are eager for cooking and budgeting tips and tools.

Where does ConAgra fit in?

ConAgra owns countless food product brands that pack the center aisles of supermarkets.

Working under the premise that it takes more than food to fight hunger, the ConAgra Foods Foundation, a national sponsor of Cooking Matters, funded It’s Dinnertime as part of its ongoing strategy to find sustainable solutions to help surround kids with the nourishment they need to flourish.

The ConAgra Foods Foundation is funded solely by ConAgra Foods.  One of the study’s conclusions is very much in ConAgra’s interest.

A better understanding of the health benefits of frozen and canned fruits and vegetables could also put more healthy options in reach for low-income families: While 81 percent of low-income parents rated fresh produce as extremely healthy, that rating drops down to 32 percent when it comes to frozen fruits and vegetables and 12 percent with canned fruits and vegetables.

The program works to improve the image of frozen and canned fruits and vegetables among low-income families.

Ordinarily, food industry-sponsored programs make me squirm.  This one makes me squirm less than most even though Sara Moulton was cooking with at least one ConAgra product: Wesson Oil.

But the program worked with 18,000 families last year and its goals make sense.

Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables really do retain much of the nutritional value of fresh produce unless they are loaded with salt and sugars.  Sara was cooking with low-salt products and the dishes she made were easy, inexpensive, nutritious, and quite delicious.

I’m impressed with how this program teaches families to fend for themselves in today’s tough environment.

Now, if ConAgra would just get busy promoting policies to improve access to healthy foods for everyone….

 

Jan 1 2011

Predictions: national nutrition issues for 2011

My first San Francisco Chronicle “Food Matters” column for the new year deals with some predictions:

Q: Whatever you used as a crystal ball last year turned out to be a pretty good predictor of the most prominent food issues of 2010. How about trying again: What food matters will we be hearing about in 2011?

A: It doesn’t take a crystal ball to figure out what’s coming up with food issues. I’m happy to make predictions, especially since most seem fairly safe.

Dietary guidelines will be released this month. By law, they were due last year and are already late. What will they say? The 2010 guidelines advisory committee recommended eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but introduced a new euphemism – SOFAs, or Solid Fats and Added Sugars – for the “eat less” advice. SOFAs really mean “cut down on fatty meat and dairy products” and “avoid sugary sodas.”

Will government agencies have the nerve to say so? Let’s hope.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will issue a new food guide. The 2005 pyramid’s rainbow stripes proved impossible to teach and useless to anyone without a computer. I’ve heard a rumor that I will love the new design. I’m skeptical. I liked the original 1992 pyramid. It showed that bottom-of-the-pyramid foods were healthiest, making it unpopular with companies selling top-of-the-pyramid products. But it is healthier to eat some foods than others (see: dietary guidelines).

Will the USDA improve on the 1992 design? We will soon find out.

The fights over food safety will continue. At the last possible moment, Congress passed the food safety bill by a large majority. Now the fights really begin.

Funding will be most contentious, with the actual regulations not far behind. The Congressional Budget Office absurdly considered the bill’s provisions to be “budget neutral.” They are anything but.

The bill’s provisions require the Food and Drug Administration to hire more inspectors just at a time when Republican lawmakers have sworn to cut domestic spending. The FDA also must translate the bill’s requirements and exemptions for small farmers into regulations.

Rule-making is a lengthy process subject to public comment and, therefore, political maneuvering. Watch the lobbying efforts ratchet up as food producers, large and small, attempt to head off safety rules they think they won’t like.

Expect more lawsuits over the scientific basis of health claims. The Federal Trade Commission just settled a $21 million claim against Dannon for advertising that yogurt protects against the flu. The agency also has gone after scientifically unsubstantiated claims that omega-3s in kiddie supplements promote brain development and that pomegranate juice protects against prostate problems. POM Wonderful has already countersued the FTC on grounds that the First Amendment protects commercial speech. I’ll be watching this case carefully.

The FDA will issue new front-of-package label regulations. The FDA has promised to propose an at-a-glance symbol to indicate the overall nutritional value of food products. Food companies like the Guideline Daily Amount spots they are using in the upper corners of food packages because the symbols are factual but nonjudgmental. The FDA, however, is considering red, yellow and green traffic-light symbols that do convey judgments. Food companies say they will not voluntarily use a symbol that tells people to eat less of their products.

Will the FDA have the courage to make traffic lights mandatory? It will need courage. The new British government dealt with the traffic-light idea by summarily dismantling the food agency that suggested it.

Corporations will seek new ways to co-opt critics. Under the guise of corporate social responsibility, food companies have been making large donations to organizations that might otherwise criticize their products. The most recent example is the decision by Save the Children, formerly a staunch advocate of soda taxes, to drop that cause coincidentally at a time when its executives were negotiating funding from Coca-Cola.

Such strategies remind me of how the Philip Morris cigarette company distributed grants to leading arts groups. Expect food companies to use generosity to neutralize critics and buy silence.

School meals will make front-page news. Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act last month. Now the USDA must implement it by setting nutrition standards, adding fresh fruits and vegetables (some locally grown) and expanding eligibility.

President Obama has promised to restore the $4.5 billion “borrowed” from the SNAP (food stamp) program to fund this act. The scrambling over the regulations and financing should make excellent spectator sport.

Farm bill advocates will be mobilizing. You might think it too early to be worrying about the 2012 Farm Bill, but I’ve already gotten position papers analyzing commodity and food-assistance issues from groups gearing up to lobby Congress to bring agricultural policy in line with nutrition and public health policy.

I have a personal interest in such papers. I will be teaching a course on the Farm Bill at New York University next fall. Please get busy and write more of them!

Happy new year, and let’s see how my guesses play out.

Dec 17 2010

Food corporations buy silence from “partners”

Does corporate social responsibility pay off for corporations?  Indeed it does.  Corporate money buys silence, if nothing else.

William Neuman of the New York Times provides a perfect example of how corporate sponsorship gets precisely what it is intended to do.

In this particular case:

  • The corporations are soda companies, Coke and Pepsi.
  • The social responsibility is donations of millions of dollars to a good cause.
  • The cause is Save the Children, a group devoted to child health and development projects internationally and domestically.
  • The intention?   Get Save the Children to stop advocating in favor of soda taxes.

Not long ago, Save the Children was a strong advocate for soda taxes.  Now it is not.  How come?  The group’s website explains:

about a minute ago we said, Corporate donors support us but do not pressure us. Our focus is children not soda tax policy. Back to saving more children now.

The Times, however, suggests a different explanation:

executives at Save the Children were seeking a major grant from Coca-Cola to help finance the health and education programs that the charity conducts here and abroad, including its work on childhood obesity.The talks with Coke are still going on. But the soda tax work has been stopped….In interviews this month, Carolyn Miles, chief operating officer of Save the Children, said there was no connection between the group’s about-face on soda taxes and the discussions with Coke. A $5 million grant from PepsiCo also had no influence on the decision, she said. Both companies fiercely oppose soda taxes.

A mere coincidence?  I don’t think so.  This is a clear win for soda companies, just as was Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the educational activities of the American Academy of Family Physicians. You can bet those activities do not involve telling parents not to give sodas to their kids.

Is this a win for Save the Children?  The Times reports that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funds some of the group’s anti-obesity initiatives, is disappointed.  Evidently, its $3.5 million donation wasn’t enough to convince the group to continue its anti-soda activities.

In the meantime, soda taxes continue to stay on the radar as a weight control strategy.  A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that soda taxes could lead to a small but potentially significant weight loss.

According to FoodNavigator’s report about the study,the authors say that applying such taxes throughout the United States could generate a billion dollars or more.  It quotes lead researcher Eric Finkelstein: “Although small, given the rising trend in obesity rates, especially among youth, any strategy that shows even modest weight loss should be considered.”

This kind of study is a challenge to soda companies.  Watch Coke and Pepsi continue donations to charitable and health groups and watch those groups say not one word about the contribution of sodas to obesity.  Cigarettes, anyone?

Aug 24 2010

The case against corporate social responsibility?

The Wall Street Journal published an astonishing piece yesterday on corporate social responsibility.  The author, Aneel Karnani, is a business professor at the University of Michigan.

Why astonishing?  Try this summary from the print edition titled “Finding the Balance:”

The Illusion: Because companies sometimes can profit from acting in the public interest, it fuels the belief that executives have a responsibility to serve not only their shareholders but also some larger social purpose.

The Reality: When companies do well by doing good, the driving force is the pursuit of profit, not a commitment to social welfare.  More often, profits and social welfare are at odds, and executives can’t be expected to heed the call for social responsibility at the expense of shareholders.

The Danger: Appeals to corporate social responsibility are not an effective way to strike a balance between profits and the public good, and they may be a distraction from more effective initiatives, such as government regulation.

OK, so the author uses healthier options at fast-food restaurants and in packaged foods as “situations where profits and social welfare are in synch.”   I would argue that these instances actually support his case, but never mind.

If the business community recognizes that corporate social responsibility is just another marketing tool, we need to listen hard.

Why is the Wall Street Journal giving professor Karnani almost a full page to discuss such things?  The editor explains:

It takes a lot of nerve to speak out against corporate social responsibility. How can you not be in favor of the idea that companies have a duty to address some of the many social ills that plague the world?  But put conventional wisdom under a microscope, and you sometimes see things you never knew existed.

Some of us had a pretty good idea these things existed, but I am delighted to see the business community publicly acknowledging what we have known for a long time.

Apr 17 2010

Can KFC help prevent breast cancer?

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.  KFC has a new promotion with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the group that raises funds to fight breast cancer.  The campaign is called “Buckets for the Cure.”

Participating KFC franchise locations will be selling specially designed pink buckets of grilled and Original Recipe chicken. KFC has pledged 50 cents to Komen for every pink bucket ordered by its restaurant operators during the promotion period, with a minimum donation of $1 million and a goal to raise more than $8 million. Twenty-five percent of the funds raised will be earmarked to Komen’s 120-plus domestic Affiliates for breast cancer programs in their communities. The remainder of the funds will support Komen’s national research and community programs.

OK, scientists are still arguing about the dietary determinants of breast cancer and aren’t too worried about fat, but they do worry about body weight.  Maintaining a healthy body weight is still the first recommendation of the American Cancer Society, for example.  Isn’t this campaign an incentive to buy as many buckets of KFC as you can?

On the topic of KFC’s pink buckets: the Dogwood Alliance is collecting signatures on a petition to stop KFC from destroying forests to make them in any color.

KFC buys from International Paper, a company notorious for “business as usual” destructive forest management practices like large-scale clearcutting, conversion of natural forests to plantations and reliance on toxic chemicals in forest management.

Dogwood wants KFC to use more environmentally friendly packaging for its buckets.  It has collected more than 9,000 signatures so far.  Here’s where you can add yours.

Addition, May 1: Thanks to Michelle Simon for forwarding this clip from Colbert.  A must-see.  It starts after the worm story at 1:15.

Apr 16 2010

Can PepsiCo help alleviate world hunger?

In the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Derek Yach and his colleagues at PepsiCo in Purchase, NY, say yes, it can, in answer to the question they pose in their article, “Can the food industry help tackle the growing global burden of undernutrition?”

If we are to successfully combat global undernutrition, efforts must be sustained by multiple stakeholders from various sectors. We believe that trust is built through industry’s demonstration of practical actions that improve health, and recognition of these actions by governments and nongovernmental organizations. Only through new and innovative public–private sector partnerships can we truly make a difference.

Three international public health leaders counter with no, it can’t, in an article entitled “The snack attack.”  They point to irreconcilable differences between the the goals of private industry and public health:

The problem lies with food, drink, and associated companies whose profits depend on products that damage public health and that also have damaging social, economic, and environmental impacts. These most of all include transnational companies, of which PepsiCo is one. To succeed, big business must sustain and increase annual turnover, profit, and share price…We suggest that public health professionals see papers such as those of Yach et al. as part of the marketing strategies of transnational food and drink companies…The privatization of public health does not work.

This argument reminds me of the editorial that David Ludwig and I wrote for JAMA late in 2008: “Can the food industry play a constructive role in the obesity epidemic?”  We concluded:

With respect to obesity, the food industry has acted at times constructively, at times outrageously. But inferences from any one action miss a fundamental point: in a market-driven economy, industry tends to act opportunistically in the interests of maximizing profit. Problems arise when society fails to perceive this situation accurately.

While visionary CEOs and enlightened food company cultures may exist, society cannot depend on them to address obesity voluntarily, any more than it can base national strategies to reduce highway fatalities and global warming solely on the goodwill of the automobile industry. Rather, appropriate checks and balances are needed to align the financial interests of the food industry with the goals of public health.

PepsiCo owns Pepsi Cola, of course, but also Gatorade, Frito-Lay snacks, and Aquafina water, among many other brands.  According to Advertising Age (June 22, 2009), PepsiCo earned $43 billion in worldwide sales in 2008. Its product-specific advertising expenditures in 2008, just for “measured media” (meaning run through advertising agencies) were, for example:

  • $162 million for Gatorade
  • $145 million for Pepsi Cola
  • $27 million for Tostitos
  • $14 million for Doritos
  • $11 million for Fritos.

These figures, staggering as they may be, do not include the amounts Pepsi spends on lobbying, supporting the American Beverage Association’s efforts to fight soda taxes, funding medical research at Yale, or marketing to children and adults in India and other developing countries, as previously discussed on this site.

Is corporate “social responsibility” really responsible?  Or is it just marketing?  And what should be the checks and balances?  You decide.

Added April 17: This comes from a former employee of PepsiCo who asks that I post this anonymously:

I think you probably know that the “marketing dollars,” the share (ads/direct marketing), of companies like Pepsico are only a fraction of what are their actually marketing/promotions budgets.  Many years ago, PepsiCo made a conscious effort to redefine/shift budgets to what is called promotional spending from traditional marketing spending.  In doing so though, they keep the control and allocation of the funds in the hands of the marketing teams.

For Pepsi I know that the $145 million you mention is probably only 25% of what Pepsi “internally” considers consumer marketing spending.  For example, direct to retails “incentive” bonus funds are given for moving volume — those funds are almost entirely funneled into the retails increasing consumer marketing to their direct customers.  There are even examples where they can hide 10′s of millions of dollars at a time by linking event sponsorships (stadiums, etc.) to retailer agreements, thus moving those dollars to long-term “capital expenditures.”  I would guess that for Pepsi alone that that $145 million could be as much as a billion a year for direct and indirect consumer marketing spending.

It is not just obscene how much gets spent to increase volume… since, for companies like PepsiCo, Coke, etc.  Volume is the only way they generate higher profit to their shareholders.  As you say, to expect a corporation to do things for the good of the consumer just shows a misunderstanding of their primary function when they are a for-profit entity.

Apr 9 2010

Corporate social responsibility: real or oxymoron?

Food corporations are pushing corporate social responsibility (CSR) as hard as they can.  This seems like an oxymoron to me, but here’s what they say:

CSR #1: Nestlé (no relation) says it is creating shared value by “optimizing water use and productivity, Italy.”

In the Piacenza and Parma region of Italy, in recent years, water has become scarcer, especially during the summer. Nestlé Italia decided to engage more closely with its tomato suppliers, to secure its supply of tomatoes and significantly reduce the amount of fresh water used for irrigation.

The three-year project with Consorzio Interregionale Ortofrutticoli, a cooperative of tomato farmers, aims to maximise tomato production and optimise irrigation in 10 pilot farms with differing soil conditions, by using solar-powered CropSense Soil Moisture Monitoring technology. Data at root level is collected daily and used to provide the exact amount of water needed to optimise crop revenue and water use.

Data collection will continue into 2011, and additional farmers are already keen to join the project based on the initial results: yields have nearly doubled, the tomato quality (sugar content) increased by 15% and the water used to produce one tonne of tomatoes fell by 45%.

Watch Nestlé’s film: Optimising water use and productivity, Italy

Read more in Nestlé’s report, Creating Shared Value

Anti-CSR: For an antidote, try Corporate Accountability International’s campaign called “Think Outside the Bottle,” and watch the video of Annie Leonard’s Story of Bottled Water.

CSR #2: FoodNavigator has a new collection of commentaries on CSR:

Food industry well-respected for CSR efforts

The food industry is one of the most well-respected industries in terms of social responsibility, according to a new survey from research-based consultancy Penn Schoen Berland… Read

Top line responsibility messages from manufacturers

Corporate responsibility is now accepted as a major part of doing business, even when the economic climate is less than ideal. FoodNavigator.com rounds up the main messages of some of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies… Read

The ethical approach to research

Science is fundamental to the food industry, from supporting claims in the health and wellness sphere to tasting panels to evaluate a new product, but scientists can never forget the ethical implications of their experiments… Read

Unilever comes out top in corporate responsibility rating

A new ranking of major food and beverage companies by their corporate social responsibility is published today, with Unilever, Nestle and Danone occupying the top three spots… Read

Developing a sustainable food industry: The what, why and how

Developing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy offers huge scope for innovation and revenue-building – but there is no one-size-fits-all approach, according to a US supply chain management professor… Read

Page 1 of 212