Business is increasingly being called upon to be a force for good, and the food system is no exception. The private sector supplies, transports, processes, markets and sells the majority of our food, so creating accountability systems to make sure that food is nutritious, safe and sustainable is critical.
The 2021 GAIN report, Business accountability for better nutrition builds on two years of research and consultations to improve business accountability in nutrition through more aligned business reporting. This includes reporting on product (re)formulation, marketing to children, food safety, food labelling, workforce nutrition and food loss and waste. We define accountability mechanisms as “initiatives whose main objective is to assess the responsibility of a stakeholder group on a specific topic whether they receive public or private funding.”
Using the set of reporting tools from the 2021 GAIN report, this blog explores the roles that various stakeholders can play individually and together to achieve aligned business reporting.
Potential role of business
Companies throughout the food value chain can play a role irrespective of their size and location. The existing reporting tools listed in the report can be used by companies to self-report their impact in their annual and sustainability reports, website, etc, complemented by third-party verification to increase their credibility.
Investing in this type of data collection and dissemination will enable companies – regardless of size – to understand and address their weaknesses for greater productivity, to be compliant with requirements from a variety of markets, to increase trust of buyers/consumers, employees and investors and to be better prepared for additional nutrition related regulations. For example BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, indicated that in 2021 they will include the following for their agribusinesses’ assessment: “whether the company has considered adhering to any relevant international, market- or sector-level standards on sustainable and responsible business conduct in which it does not currently participate.”
Multinational companies can be at the forefront of better business reporting. Because most of them are being evaluated by multiple accountability mechanisms, they are under further scrutiny regarding their nutrition impact and they increasingly have to report on the practices of their suppliers. Better alignment in business reporting will therefore translate to more efficient use of their own resources for nutrition reporting. Additionally, by training and supporting their suppliers to report on their impact using credible frameworks/methodologies, multinational companies not only comply with their own reporting requirements but also provide public and private decision-makers with a better understanding of SMEs’ impact on nutrition.
The UN Global Compact has summarised the key benefits for businesses to support and incorporate sustainability reporting from the SMEs in their supply chain. This includes: achieving a higher rate of overall compliance to required standards; mitigating risks regarding the quality of the products and the sustainability impact of their production; increasing SMEs productivity; improving the social and economic environment; reputational gains; and increasing knowledge-sharing. Recognising that SMEs suppliers have limited resources and reporting expertise, multinational companies should adopt aligned reporting requirements for their suppliers.
Business can also benefit from active support from business associations in this area. Business associations have historically supported their members to identify ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) commitments and to conduct global advocacy activities and in some cases, they have been instrumental in developing global/regional reporting frameworks/methodologies. For example:
- The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) has launched the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a Coalition of Action gathering around 30 retailers and manufacturers which are CGF members and external partners and overseeing food safety standards for businesses.
- The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has established an Advertising and Marketing Communications Code – or ICC Marketing Code which is a globally applicable self-regulatory framework.
- The Workforce Nutrition Alliance (co-founded by CGF and GAIN), supports employers to adopt workforce nutrition programmes. The Alliance has developed an assessment methodology to review workforce nutrition programmes implemented by employers.
- The World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) was among the partners who developed the Food Loss and Waste Standard.
Whether small or large, business can benefit from coherent and aligned reporting, and Business to Business support and multi-stakeholder coordination can make that reporting even more effective. Once information on business impact is available, actors across the food system can help strengthen business actions as well the enabling environment towards better nutrition.
Potential role of accountability mechanisms, international organisations and civil society
Accountability mechanisms provide credible and often detailed assessments of business impact around nutrition. However, they operate with limited resources in a complex and changing environment. Better alignment of their respective methodologies is critical to save resources, so they are better positioned to evaluate businesses across the full value chain.
Data sharing should also be increased among accountability mechanisms to achieve better efficiency. Using the reporting tools listed in the GAIN 2021 report, accountability mechanisms can look at coordinated data collection when interacting with the same companies and consider collective data management in some key areas. All the reporting tools listed in the report can be used to share aggregated results that do not require non-disclosure agreements.
The need for coordination and alignment among accountability mechanisms is already supported through several initiatives, illustrating the interest of these entities to operate more efficiently. The Corporate Reporting Dialogue, for example, is a platform convened by the International Integrated Reporting Council to promote greater coherence, consistency and comparability between corporate reporting frameworks, standards and related requirements.
Civil society can be very effective at disseminating the results of business impact on nutrition and identifying both progress and gaps in this area, as well as the roles that can be played by multiple stakeholders to address these challenges. Civil society organisations are also effectively able to reach out to the general public, while accountability mechanisms’ audience often targets business, investors and in some instance government representatives.
Potential role of governments
A key objective of the initiative is to improve the understanding of business impact on nutrition globally, acknowledging that business accountability tends to be overlooked in low- and middle-income countries. By using the frameworks and methodologies listed in the GAIN 2021 report in settings where regulations are currently less stringent, governments can support better nutrition as well as international/regional food trade by harmonising requirements, which is key to effective trade policies.
Governments can also provide funding to enable accountability mechanisms to operate independently from private sector funding and to support civil society organisations’ capacity to disseminate and comment on business impact. Government funding is also necessary to provide trainings and run certification programmes at affordable rates for small and medium enterprises.
Working together for better nutrition accountability
In addition to their respective roles, these stakeholders can support better business accountability in nutrition by leading and engaging in consultative processes to review and update existing reporting tools so that they remain relevant for current global food systems (e.g. digitalisation of marketing, emergence of new products and new production practices).
The survey that GAIN launched in 2020 and summarised in the survey results report illustrates that while some reporting tools are quite consensual across sectors to assess business impact, there are a few areas where more stringent tools are favoured by the public sector. These tools, e.g. the WHO Nutrient Profile models, can constitute a mid/long-term target for improved business reporting, with the public and private sector actively collaborating to ensure strong business engagement around credible and increasingly demanding standards for better nutrition.
While the GAIN 2021 report can enable various stakeholder groups to align business reporting in nutrition for better business accountability, collective engagement will remain necessary to update and improve reporting tools to assess businesses across the entire food value chain.
- Aligning business accountability in nutrition (main learnings from GAIN's nutrition accountability initiative, presentation, 2021)
- Accountability mechanisms for nutrition (Nutrition Connect webpage)
- Business accountability for better nutrition (GAIN report, 2021)
- Aligning business reporting in nutrition: 2020 survey results (GAIN report, 2020)
- Aligning accountability initiatives for better nutrition impact (GAIN workshop summary/blog, 2020)
- A review of business accountability mechanisms in nutrition (GAIN report, 2019)
Notes and references
- See also the PowerPoint presentation, Aligning business accountability in nutrition, which summarises main learnings from GAIN's nutrition accountability initiative.
- For example, for accountability mechanisms assessing business impact on nutrition, the GAIN 2021 report identified: Access to Nutrition Index from the Access to Nutrition Initiative, Access to Seed Index from the World Benchmarking Alliance, Business Impact Assessment on Obesity and Population-level Nutrition tool (BIA Obesity tool) from the International Network for Food and Obesity / Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Research, Monitoring and Action Support, Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, Dow Jones Sustainability Index from S&P Global, Coller Protein Producer Index from the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return, Standards from the Global Reporting Initiative, SDG Alignment Tool from Morgan Stanley Capital International, Global Nutrition Report, SDG Assessment from Vigeo Eiris, Food and Agriculture Benchmark from WBA, and Seafood Stewardship Index from WBA.
- Approach to engagement with agribusiness companies on sustainable business practices commentary, BlackRock, from the 2021 Stewardship Expectations Global Principles and Market-level Voting Guidelines, January 2021.
- Support your SME Suppliers, UN Global Compact, 2015.
- Enhancing Coherence between Trade Policy and Nutrition Action, Discussion Paper 1, UN Standing Committee on Nutrition