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Most food and agriculture giants are failing on human rights and emissions, says WBA

Unilever, Nestle and Danone top new food and agriculture ranking, showing public pressure can lead to change, says WBA

More than 90% of the world’s 350 largest food and agriculture companies are failing to show how they identify, assess and act on key human rights issues, according to a new benchmark by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA).

The Food and Agriculture Benchmark, which claims to be the “the first assessment of the entire food value chain, from farm to fork”, ranked the 350 companies on their environmental, nutritional and social impact in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Launched in 2018 by founding members Aviva, the United Nations Foundation and Index Initiative, the WBA is tasked with developing a series of SDG-related corporate benchmarks. 

The food and agriculture benchmark report alleged that 304 of the companies do not having sufficient commitments to eliminate forced labour and 202 lack these in relation to stamping out child labour.

Criticisms were also raised regarding environmental work, with the WBA identifying only 26 companies working to reduce emissions from their direct activities (scope 1 and 2) through science-based targets, aligned with the 1.5◦C warming trajectory set by the Paris Agreement.

And despite Scope 3 emissions making up around 80% of the emissions for food companies, more than 200 of the largest players do not publicly disclose their Scope 3 emissions, “let alone set targets to reduce emissions”, said the WBA. 

Despite the concerning findings, there is reason for optimism, Viktoria de Bourbon de Parme, Lead Food and Agriculture Transformation at WBA, explained. 

“Interestingly, Unilever, Nestlé and Danone top this ranking,” she said. “Although we believe they still need to improve their actions, their position is proof that when a company faces public pressure, we can see positive change.”

The benchmark comes just days ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit kicking off on Thursday. The summit aims to “trigger the transformation of food systems the world over with a marathon day of commitments from governments, advocates, communities and businesses”. 

The WBA has also launched the general key findings of its Access to Seeds Index today. The index measures and compares the efforts of the world’s leading seed companies to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers.

In the coming months it will also publish the Seafood Stewardship Index, as well as its  ‘Just Transition’ Assessments (in Automotive, Oil and Gas and Electric Utilities sectors), and the second iteration of the Digital Inclusion Benchmark.