Berlin - Many of the top food and drink companies are taking steps to improve their social and environmental impact on poor countries, although there is still more to do, according to development organisation Oxfam.

Oxfam launched its “Behind the Brands” campaign a year ago to try to assess the real impact of food and drink companies on the countries where they source raw materials, especially given a proliferation of public commitments to sustainability.

Oxfam said yesterday that the firms it ranked as most responsible – Nestlé, Unilever and Coca-Cola – had extended their lead over the others, while General Mills had replaced Associated British Foods in last place.

Big food and beverage companies have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years over their sourcing of raw materials, courting criticism on issues ranging from child labour on cocoa farms to the impact of palm oil plantations on rain forests.

Oxfam said its campaign had been helped by thousands of consumers bombarding brands with messages calling for action, as well as a joint statement from 31 investment funds representing almost $1.5 trillion (R16.1 trillion) of assets reiterating the Oxfam demands.

“Those that are not moving fast enough will pay a price with the public, investors and communities in the field,” Chris Jochnick, the director of Oxfam’s private sector work, said. “Those companies that move first should see benefits in long-term access to sustainable supply chains, which should be reflected in their share price.”

Oxfam said the biggest 10 food and beverage companies it studied had a huge impact given that their annual revenues of more than $450 billion were equivalent to the national income of all the low-income countries combined. – Reuters