A progress report published by the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB), a collaboration of investors and civil society organisations, has evaluated human rights performance and named food firms that are not sufficiently engaged in rights protection and advancement.

The report, which claims to be the first of its kind, has evaluated and ranked the 100 largest agri-food, extractive and clothing companies on their ability to promote human rights.

It aims to allow investors to take into account ‘social’ costs of a company when making capital allocation decisions by acknowledging firms that put human rights issues at the centre of their operations while naming firms with poor engagement.

Of the top ten highest-ranked companies, four agri-food firms – Marks & Spencer, Nestlé, Unilever, and Kellogg’s – were found to perform well. The lowest ranking firm was Costco Wholesale, which was joined near the bottom of the table by Kraft Heinz, McDonald’s, Walmart, Carrefour, PepsiCo, and Mondelēz.

Companies could score a maximum of 100%, but only a small amount of companies surpassed a score of 50%. The mean score bracket was 20%-29%, considered to be ‘disappointingly low’, according to the CHRB. Costco Wholesale scored five out of 100 in the benchmark rankings.

The CHRB report evaluated good human rights policy based on categories such as embedding respect and human rights due diligence, remedies and grievance mechanisms, performance, company human rights practices, responses to serious abuse allegations, and company transparency.

Aviva Investors chief responsible investment officer and CHRB chair Steve Waygood said that benchmarking is encouraging a ‘race to the top’ for businesses wishing to improve their human rights practices.

Waygood said: “That is good news. However, we should all be concerned by the lack of engagement from around a quarter of companies, particularly as they are in priority sectors concerning serious human rights impacts. ​

“Issues such as modern day slavery, worker safety and freedom of association can be material to the financial performance of these companies and they may risk restricted access to capital due to reputational damage and regulatory backlash.”  ​

In a joint response to the benchmark report, Nestlé’s head of investor relations Steffen Kindler and head of public affairs Christian Frutiger conceded that more could be done to improve human rights, saying: “In an ever-changing business landscape, investors play a critical role in supporting companies to take decisive steps in managing their responsibility to respect human rights. We look forward to continuing our participation in this important initiative.”​

Tesco’s responsible sourcing director Giles Bolton, whose supermarket scored 43 out of 100 in the report, said: “One of the key areas for improvement identified is implementing meaningful grievance mechanisms further down supply chains.

“This is not something that policy alone can tackle. We have learnt that leverage decreases the further away from our business we look in the supply chain so we will focus efforts on collaborative mechanisms.”​