BOSTON: Nestlé, the Swiss packaged food group, has emerged as the top performer in a survey of the social and environmental policies being pursued by global food and beverage companies.

As part of its "Behind the Brands" campaign, Oxfam, the charity, rated the top ten corporations in this sector on seven issues: ensuring the rights of the workers and farmers growing their ingredients, how they protect women's rights, management of land and water use, climate change, and the transparency of their supply chains, policies and operations.

Nestlé registered an overall score of 54%, ahead of Unilever on 49% and Coca-Cola on 41%.

On Oxfam's scale, these figures indicated "some progress", but the remaining seven major businesses assessed fell into the "poor" category.

These included PepsiCo on 31%, Mars on 30%, Danone on 29%, Mondelez on 29%, General Mills on 23%, Kellogg on 23% and Associated British Foods (ABF) on 19%.

"Some companies recognise the business case for sustainability and have made important commitments that deserve praise," said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director for Oxfam International.

But he was critical of their past – "a 100-year legacy of relying on cheap land and labour" – and said no company emerged with a good overall score. "Across the board all ten companies need to do much more," he added.

In particular, the survey found all ten corporations were overly secretive about their agricultural supply chains, which made it difficult to verify claims of "sustainability" and "social responsibility".

Nestlé and Unilever were most open about the countries they sourced from, but Oxfam said no company is providing enough information about their suppliers.

And none of the companies had adequate policies in place to protect local communities from land and water grabs, despite all of them sourcing commodities, such as palm oil, soy and sugar, which have been linked to land rights violations.

Oxfam singled out ABF's Patak and Amoy brands for their lack of a public policy as regards fair business arrangements with suppliers.

But it also praised the company's Twinings tea brand which it said "stood out for its commitments to a living wage for workers".

Only Unilever – which is top-ranked for its dealings with small-scale farmers – had specific supplier guidelines to address some key issues faced by farmers.

"No brand is too big to listen to its customers," said Hobbs. "If enough people urge the big food companies to do what is right, they have no choice but to listen."

Data sourced from Oxfam International/Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff