Politics of Poverty

Are General Mills and Kellogg silent accomplices to a warming planet?

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Oxfam Action Corps members and staff visited the National Confectioners Association's Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago earlier this year to put pressure on the Big 10 food and beverage companies. Photo: Elena Bazini / Oxfam America

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign urges them to do more.

Oxfam’s latest Behind the Brands action is focused on getting the ‘Big 10’ food and beverage companies to step off the sidelines and do more to combat climate change – both in their own supply chains and through their influence with other industries and governments. We singled out General Mills and Kellogg as two companies that are lagging behind others on climate and challenged them to step up and lead the way to do more.

In response to Oxfam’s latest report, Standing on the Sidelines, General Mills in a blog post on their website touted all the good work the company is already doing on climate. While General Mills does have reduction targets for their operations, they admit that these are a small part of their overall emissions and that they have no reduction targets for a large bulk of their emissions, which come from their agricultural supply chains.

General Mills has also highlighted all of the work they do in various industry and multi-stakeholder initiatives such as Field to Market, in which Kellogg also participates. Oxfam values communities of practice. We believe initiatives that promote sharing and development of best practices and engage other sectors on opportunities for collective action are important. Oxfam acknowledges General Mills’ leadership in the Field to Market Initiative to improve agricultural practices in the United States. While these efforts are important, they are different than requiring suppliers to adopt certain standards in their practices.

Field to Market is not a certification body that tracks suppliers’ compliance with certain standards and progress over time in meeting particular targets. We believe efforts to harmonize supplier requirements would be positive, but at a minimum, companies need to require suppliers to reduce their emissions. Several of the Big 10 companies actually require their suppliers to make reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (though notably, without being explicit about setting a baseline and reduction target for agricultural specifically). General Mills doesn’t even do that. Moreover, General Mills could go even further by requiring that some of their suppliers actually establish greenhouse gas reduction targets with timelines and that are in line with a “safe” 2°C threshold of global temperature rise—the globally-agreed upon scientific standard needed to avoid catastrophic global climate impacts—thereby becoming a true leader in the industry. Kellogg does have requirements in its supplier code on reducing ghg emissions – though not specific to agricultural emissions.  Oxfam believes Kellogg could strengthen this code with specific requirements on agricultural emissions.

It isn’t just Oxfam that believes General Mills and Kellogg could and should be doing more to mitigate their emissions. In a Climate Counts study that evaluated companies’ greenhouse gas emissions goals, of 100 companies surveyed, Kellogg ranked 60th at “not sustainable” and  General Mills ranked even worse at 65th, also “not sustainable”This is based on the companies’ existing targets. The report defines sustainable as a company that is reducing emissions in-line with a two degree threshold. The report is the first of its kind and it is currently the best measure of which Oxfam knows to conduct this type of quantitative assessment.

Finally, General Mills and Kellogg are not using the full weight of their influence to advocate for climate action. General Mills cites its work in the Consumer Goods Forum and Tropical Forest Alliance, which has engagements with governments in Asia and Africa, and in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which has engagements with the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia. Kellogg also points to its work in the Consumer Goods Forum and other sustainability initiatives. While Oxfam commends these alliances and collaborations (and participates in some of them as well), General Mills and Kellogg do not belong to any partnerships or coalitions that engage in advocacy to influence meaningful climate change policies nationally or globally such as BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy) or the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Neither General Mills nor Kellogg have signed on to the Trillion Tonne Communiqué, nor taken steps in the industry associations of which they are a member, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, to influence them to take positions that support climate change actions or to push back against their efforts to fight constructive climate change policy. These steps could also catapult General Mills and Kellogg to become  industry leaders.

Kellogg and General Mills acknowledge that climate change could have an impact on agriculture and the world’s food supply. In March 2014, General Mills CEO Ken Powell said that in the previous fiscal quarter, extreme weather had dampened sales and cost his company 62 days of production, or the equivalent of 3–4 percent of production, “which hasn’t happened in a long time to us, think decades.”

To meet not only its ethical obligations but its fiscal ones as well, General Mills and Kellogg can’t remain silent accomplices to climate change any longer.

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