LONDON: Oxfam says public action in the past year has persuaded nine of the world's largest food and beverage companies to improve their social and environmental policies.

Only General Mills, distributor of Betty Crocker, Cheerios, Green Giant, Haagen-Dazs, Old El Paso and Yoplait foods, is the one producer that "is heading in the wrong direction" says the organisation.

According to the first assessment of its 'Behind the Brands' audit, the 'Big 10' - Associated British Foods (ABF) Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever – collectively earn more than US$1.1 billion per day. Oxfam notes that with annual revenues of $450 billion equal to the GDP of all of the world's low-income countries combined, shifts in how these companies do business impact the world's food system.

Oxfam brands"Most of the 'Big 10' are moving in the right direction because hundreds of thousands of consumers and investors controlling trillions in assets are demanding an overhaul to business as usual," commented Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima.

"Some companies showed courageous leadership but it appears others need to be pulled along kicking and screaming. It will take time for them to reverse a 100-year history of relying on cheap land and labour to make mass products at huge profits but at high social and environmental costs. The race to the top is underway and there are clear leaders and laggards."

Oxfam says the top three performers – Nestle, Unilever, and Coca-Cola – all improved their scores by the biggest margins of 10, 14 and 13 percent respectively while Associated British Foods and Kellogg improved by eight and six percent.

"By improving their policies on land, some of the world's most powerful companies have already helped communities seeking fair compensation for the land that was taken from them nearly a decade ago in countries like Cambodia and Brazil," said Byanyima. "Companies can open up space to help communities resolve decades-old conflicts once and for all."

In March last year Oxfam campaigned for Mars, Mondelez and Nestle to help end inequality for women farmers – which apparently they did. In October it told Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and ABF they needed to stop land grabs in their supply chains. Oxfam says all three companies moved quickly to "dramatically improve" their policies.

"The most important lesson from the first year of 'Behind the Brands' is that companies do respond, quickly and to great effect, when consumers push them toward more responsible methods of production. Down the supply chains we are already seeing agricultural producers and traders beginning to improve their practices to ensure they retain the business of the 'Big 10'," noted Byanyima.