Behind the Brands: Oxfam Holds Big F&B Accountable

March 6th, 2013 | Shonali Burke | 6 Comments

Behind the BrandsDo you know how your favorite brands measure up on the issues that matter to you?

We hear a lot these days about how brands are working hard to become more green; “sustainability” is the new black. But just how green – or black – are big food brands? How does the way they do business affect the people because of whom they can do business?

Behind the Brands

With International Women’s Day approaching, Oxfam recently embarked on what I think is one of the best-conceived and (so far, at least) executed awareness and activism campaigns: Behind the Brands. (Disclosure, Oxfam America was a client last year and I had terrific fun working on the 2012 IWD campaign.

In their words:

Behind the Brands is part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign to help create a world where everyone has enough to eat. Right now, nearly one in eight people on earth go to bed hungry. Sadly, the majority of these people are farmers or farm workers supplying the very food system that is failing them.  Yet there is enough food for everyone. That’s an outrage – but we can be the generation that ends this crazy situation.

“While the food system is complex and its problems multi-faceted, we know that the world’s largest food and beverage companies have enormous influence. Their policies drive how food is produced, the way resources are used and the extent to which the benefits trickle down to the marginalised millions at the bottom of their supply chains.

“Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign aims to provide people who buy and enjoy these products with the information they need to hold the Big 10 to account for what happens in their supply chains. In putting together a scorecard based entirely on publicly available information on company policies, we posed the question ‘what are they doing to clean up their supply chains?’ “

What Oxfam has done is put together an incredibly attractive, not-too-complicated-but-not-too-simplistic campaign site, where you can select one of several popular food brands to see how their parent company scores on these issues – based on Oxfam’s scorecard which, as they say, they created using publicly available information on these companies’ policies.

And as you click through, there are several other resources available to you, including a detailed briefing document, datasheets of the raw data, the methodology, and an updated list of company responses to the campaign.

My favorite brand disappoints

I went through the exercise, since I was curious, not just about how the campaign site would work, but about what I would find. I was quite disappointed to find that Associated British Foods, the owner of Patak’s – one of my favorite Indian food brands (you should see my refrigerator) scores abysmally low on almost all the issues I care about:

ABF scores on Behind the BrandI also did not know, before this, that ABF owns Patak’s, and also Twinings. I may have to stop buying my “Indos” and tea!

Now, Oxfam doesn’t exhort you to stop buying those products (though most of the time nothing speaks louder than money), it does ask you to join their campaign by signing a petition and/or sharing the information socially.

At the time of writing, they were more than halfway to their goal of 20,000 actions. My guess is they will get there pretty quickly.

So, here is what you can do, if you feel strongly about these issues:

1. Check out the Behind the Brands site, and learn how your own favorite brands score (come back and tell me, please? I’m really curious to know).

2. Sign the petition, and/or share as you can; Oxfam makes it very easy for you to do so, as you will see from the social sharing options on the site.

3. Participate in the Behind the Brands Thunderclap to spread the message automatically on March 8… you don’t even have to be awake to do it!

And do let me know what you think of the campaign; outside of how you/I might feel about specific issues and/or brands, I think it’s remarkably well-designed. I’m curious to see how it proceeds!

Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Latest posts by Shonali Burke (see all)

Print Friendly
Opt In Image

"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?


@ConorCo LOL! Did you have something to do with that? :) Really great work!


@ivo_64 @geoffliving @prosperitygal @shellykramer @bdorman264 @shashib Thanks so much for sharing my post on @oxfam #behindthebrands

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This is great stuff @Shonali  

Luckily my market has more than 1 line of Indian Sauces. I am pretty sure Patak is one. 

There have been endless studies showing brands that are environmental and socially conscious out perform the competitors that are not in most metrics. But they never account to executive pay. And it is possible big brands keep doing crappy things because while stockholders and employees might suffer, executive management does not.


  1. [...] You saw (I hope) my post on Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign. Please do look at their campaign and scorecard – it’s stunning and also quite mind [...]