by Marion Nestle
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. 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

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  • Joy

    With all the reports claiming all the right things using all the hot button words, one cannot but question Big Food’s sudden commitment to social responsibility. Their many decades-long record of producing nutrition-devoid food products with unsustainable, ecologically disastrous practices involving human rights iniquities in developing nations speaks much louder than their recently re-crafted vision statements. How long before their lofty ‘visions for the future’ are implemented, replacing business as usual?

    Who were the 1,001 people in the “representative sample” who said that food is one of the most well-respected industries regarding social responsibility? Were they asked to review Big Food’s ‘responsibility messages’ before responding? When sustainability collides with shareholder bottom line expectations social responsibility doesn’t always come out on top. Or was focus directed at the organic segment, skewing the overall picture, allowing Big Food to ride the coattails of companies who have demonstrated social responsibility across all issues from the beginning?

    Is Big Food truly committed to drastically changing their ways, or are they just trying to improve their marketing message? It is more believable that the food industrial complex is the most deceptive and cleverly manipulative of industries rather than one of the most socially responsible. And if they succeed in neutralizing the organic sector, we will all suffer. Oxymoronic, indeed.

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  • Expecting Rain

    Let’s not forget pepsi!

    1) Advertise Like You Give A Damn (by Diana Lind, editor in chief of
    Next American City magazine.)

    2) Lyn Pentecost: Pimping for Pepsi? I’d Rather Sell Cupcakes!
    (Bio: Lyn Pentecost, PhD is an anthropologist and Executive Director
    of The Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York. The Girls Club owns and
    operates four successful social ventures: a Farmers Market, a Fair
    Trade Gift Shop, a Community Café and The Sweet Things Bake Shop-
    which makes the best cupcake in NYC!)

    And have you read the ENTIRE fine print? Section 7B is FUN!!!!!!!

  • I would say it’s about saving money first and touting the side effect of social responsibility second.

  • Subvert

    And hey, let’s hear it for Star$ucks recent Corporate Responsibility inaction!

    Shareholders reject increased recycling efforts to counteract the mounds of trash this wonderful, responsible company puts on this earth every day, but hey, who really cares when shareholders get stock dividends! Isn’t life great..?!

  • When we have a system where business isn’t aimed *by law* solely and completely at maximization of profits, then maybe I’ll have some tolerance for “corporate social responsibility”.

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  • It is interesting to learn how the careful use of water for irrigation in Italy has actually provided for abundant tomato crops.