Brands, bankers and big ideas…… talking food to $5 trillion of investment

June 24, 2013

     By Duncan Green     

Oxfam’s tame ex-banker Will Martindale has been discussing food security with some masters of the (financial) universeWillMartindale

Imagine a million people, each with a million dollars. Then times it by five. Five trillion dollars. That was the total investment represented by bankers and investors that joined Oxfam last week for a meeting to discuss global food security.

The context was Behind the Brands. Nestle, Unilever, Coca Cola, Pepsico, Mars, Mondelez, General Mills and Kellogg’s were also represented.

The format was unusual for Oxfam. First, there were no journalists; the purpose wasn’t publicity. Next, the pace was fast; five minute presentations from our panellists, 90 second contributions from the brands, and punchy questions from investors. And finally, the event took place bang smack in the heart of the City of London, hosted and chaired by Steve Waygood of Aviva Investors.

In case you missed it, Oxfam launched Behind the Brands in February. It’s a ranking of the supply chain policies of the top 10 food and beverage companies across seven themes: land, water, women, workers, farmers, climate change and transparency (latest summary below).

BtB June 13

Since then, Erinch Sahan (below, on hind legs), Rob Nash and I – and our Oxfam colleagues in America – have met with banker after banker. Yes, making the moral case, but also making the business case. A company that manages its supply chain well, respects land rights, limits water consumption, pays women the same as men, pays a living wage, mitigates and adapts to climate change, and reports transparently, is a company that manages most things well; is a company that has long-term value; is a company that makes a good investment.

And it’s working. On both sides of the Atlantic, investors have signed up to a statement which “welcomes Oxfam’s efforts” to “achieve the changes necessary to positively impact the communities and environments at source”.

Why? The project’s well-researched. The data can be downloaded and it’s quantitative; it’s the right presentation for an investor audience. We involved the food and beverage companies, and continue to do so. And we’ve used external structures to promote our work; through the UN Principles of Responsible Investment for example. These are lessons we will take forward.

Oxfam’s business case is the following:

Oxfam bloke in suit talking to $5trn

Oxfam bloke in suit talking to $5trn

–      Firstly, we’re engaging investors, the people that manage your pension or savings. Investors can make demands of the companies they own. If those companies ignore the demands, they can disinvest.

–      Secondly, we’re engaging investment banks like Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan. Banks make investment recommendations; doing so on the back of Behind the Brands is a powerful motivation for the food and beverage companies to score well.

–      Thirdly, we’re engaging data providers, like Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, to incorporate Oxfam’s metrics – and hence Oxfam’s values – in data used by investors.

With decades of experience and on-the-ground knowledge, Oxfam has the convening power to put brands, banks and big ideas together in a room. And with Behind the Brands, the call to action was clear: The food system is broken. Act now and we can improve the lives of millions of farmers who go to bed hungry each night, many working in the supply chains of the big food and beverage companies.

So we’re unashamedly using finance to further that message. And what’s more, the City likes it.

And here’s an article from today’s FT on ‘Oxfam’s supply chain inquisitor’