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9 Nov 2015

Rachel Wilshaw, Oxfam GB

Commentary: How the Behind the Brands campaign has driven change in corporate policy

Over the last three years Oxfam's Behind the Brands campaign has leveraged the power of consumers to persuade the world's largest food and beverage companies to account for what happens in their supply chains...Here are the key elements of the campaign strategy which have led to such positive results:

1. Race to the Top

The model of change was to use competition in the market to leverage a race to the top, by providing brand reward for leaders and brand risk for laggards... In a few instances, campaign actions against brands were dropped at the 11th hour when the company complied with Oxfam demands just before the deadline...

2. Critical Friend

The campaign message was not, 'stop buying the brands you love' but 'change their behaviour', drawing on the 'critical friend' concept that informs our wider model of private sector engagement, challenging where justified by the evidence, then giving credit where credit is due. For more on this see Irit Tamir's blog: Critical Friends: The do's and don'ts of corporate campaigning, Oxfam-style.

3. Deep engagement

...We consulted comprehensively with the target companies before the launch, and since February 2013 have undertaken behind the scenes advocacy engagement and responded positively when the targeted companies, and others, reached out for dialogue and advice. This has strengthened the arm of human rights advocates and senior management with the companies who are seeking to drive internal change.

4. Credibility

Oxfam has taken an evidence-based approach to the campaign. Behind the scorecard sat two years of research and consultation, involving industry experts, NGOs and academics, and the companies themselves. The scorecard is based on a rigorous analysis of company policies, while care is taken to ensure that asks of companies are realistic...

5. Public information only

Behind the Brands assessed publicly available information only, to incentivise transparency about policies, commitments and due diligence...The emphasis on transparency has galvanised target companies to put far more information on their websites...

6. Full Oxfam transparency

Oxfam has published the scorecard, all of the criteria it uses to assess companies, the assessments themselves, information sources, as well as a methodology guide, so that everything sitting behind the campaign is open to scrutiny. Consistent with our expectations of companies, we as an organisation want to demonstrate transparency and accountability .

7. Update scores and sharpen indicators

Indicators and company scores have been updated periodically. This has enabled scores to be revised when companies demonstrated progress on their policies or put new material into the public domain, on the basis of which, ratings and rankings changed. It has also meant indicators could be improved to ensure that they remain meaningful and continue to reflect best practice. For instance, new indicators were added on advocacy asks of governments, such as lobbying on progressive policies.

8. Engage the public

Information was made accessible and messages simplified to engage the public. The campaign has aimed to hold companies accountable for what is happening within their supply chains by mobilising consumers. Over the last 2.5 years, over 700,000 campaign actions have been taken: supporters have signed petitions, shared campaign materials via social media and engaged in offline stunts. The world's leading food and beverage companies have responded to these actions with new corporate commitments on the Behind the Brands themes.


[H]ow could benchmarks be used even more effectively to drive a race to the top in future? Future company rankings could incorporate 'bottom up' feedback from workers on employment terms and suppliers on commercial terms. More could also be done to encourage companies to publish meaningful data on the impact of their policies   And perhaps in future the public could be invited to assess companies, even choose what to assess them on, to increase the universe of companies covered and then make the process more inclusive. The 'pull' factors of such campaigns also needs to be combined with 'push' factors: workers, farmers and communities having greater negotiating power and governments ensuring the rules of the game favour responsible companies.