“For more than 100 years, the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies have relied on cheap land and labor to produce inexpensive products and huge profits. But these profits have often come at the cost of the environment and local communities around the world, and have contributed to a food system in crisis” (2).
It may or may not be a surprise to you but most mainstream brands, that are easy to recall due to a substantial amount of advertising about them, are owned by about 10 companies.
Oxfam is a beneficent company that is dedicated to protecting the rights of workers of these brands who created the infographic below.
I will provide a brief overview of each company. Following this, I will suggest some smaller ethical businesses that seem to be mindful choices.
Revenue example: 59.1 billion (1)
– Brands –
Ben and Jerrys . Pukka Herbs . Hellmans . PG tips . Dove Soaps . Knorr . Maille. Becel . Imperial . Skippy . Bertolli . Slim-fast . Pot noodle . Colman’s . Bovril . Good Humor . Breyers . Popsicle . Klondike . Cornetto . Magnum . Salada . Red Rose . Lipton . St Ives . Axe . Lever . Noxzema . Suave . Sunsilk . Alberto . Thermasilk . Vo5 . TRESemme . Vaseline . Degree . Ponds . Breeze . Vim . Sunlight
There have been various concerns with Unilever. According to ethicalconsumer.org (3), including violent force against innocent striking workers, substantial use of palm oil across products which affects deforestation and biodiversity, and the company still uses animal testing on many products.
Revenue example: 13.5 billion (1)
– Brands –
Froot loops . Frosted Flakes . Eggo . Pringles . Cheez-it . Pop Tarts . Nutri-Grain . Crispix . Raisin Bran . Vector . Krave . Corn flakes . Apple Jacks . Bran Flakes . Mini Wheats . All-Bran . Just Rights . Corn Pops . Rice Crispies
In terms of Kellog’s, their trustworthiness has to be questioned based on claims that they have made. Kellog’s has claimed that their cereals lead to immunity which was not based on scientific evidence (5). In fact, many Kellog’s cereals contain ingredients that are detrimental to health like sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Kellog’s products are also GMO and contain pesticides like Glyphosate which are likely to be carcinogenic (6, 7). This is not all either, as there are other additives in Kellog’s which are linked to cancer. These include butylated hydroxytoluene and sucralose (8). Thus, anyone who claims Kellog’s cereals are healthy would be making a dubious claim at best.
Associated British Foods
Revenue example: 16.6 billion (1)
– Brands –
Dorset Cereals . Twinings Tea . Burgen . Kingsmill . Birdseye . Pataks . Karo . Jordans . Ryvita . Westmill Foods, The Silver Spoon Company . George Weston foods . Speedibake . Ovaltine . Allinson . Sunblest . Jackson’s of Piccadilly . Meena
Associated British Foods have been criticized for a lack of policy on environmental issues, equality, and exploitation of entire countries.
“ABF, which raked in £12.3bn last year in global sales, could muster just 13 out of 70 points across seven categories, with its lowest ratings coming from an apparent lack of policies on issues such as land management, climate change and women… This public admonition capped off an ugly fortnight for ABF, following hot on the heels of an Action Aid report accusing it of exploiting elaborate accounting loopholes to deprive Zambia, a base for its sugar business and one of the world’s poorest countries, of much needed public revenues.” (9)
This means that, from an ethical and eco-conscious standpoint, there is much to be reproved.
Revenue example: 17.6 billion (1)
– Brands –
Cheerios . Chex . Yoplait . Hamburger Helper . Betty Crocker . Haagen-Dazs . Green Giant . Old El Passo . Jus-Rol . Pillsbury . Yoplait . Small Planet Foods . Nature Valley . Liberte . Wanchai . Pillsbury . Lucky Charms .Chex . Golden Grahams . Fibre1. Cinnamon toast crunch
The trustworthiness of this company has been questionable. In terms of the brands ‘Nature Valley’ and ‘Cheerios,’ the first often contains high fructose corn syrup and a significant amount of sugar whilst the second is also high in sugar content. There have been lawsuits against General Mills due to their labeling of these refined ingredients. Nature Valley Granola Thins were labeled as ‘natural’ despite the ingredients which resulted in a lawsuit (10). Refined additives are not naturally occurring. There has been a similar case for ‘Cheerios’. This lawsuit was based on the fact that the positive health claims on the packaging also seem nonsensical due to the high levels of sugar in the product (11). Both high fructose corn syrup and sugar contain empty calories which increase the risk of weight gain and sugar cycling that is linked to diabetes.
Revenue example: 24.9 billion
– Brands –
Activa . Yocrunch . Oikos . Evian . Actimel . Activia . Aqua . Volvic . Badoit . Font Vella . Bon Vioni . Villa Del Sar . Salus . Fortisip . Fortimel . Cow and Gate . SGM . Bebeloc . Dumex . Gallia . Bledina . Silk . Aptimil . Oikos . Danette . Stonyfield . Alpro . Harrogate Spa . Thirsty Planet
Similarly to General Mills and Kellog’s, Danone has been questioned and taken to court based on its lack of trustworthiness.
“The problem for Dannon is that there’s no clinical proof that the probiotic Bifidus Regularis in Activia yogurt is better at preventing disease or regulating digestion compared to the friendly bacteria in any other yogurt products…Because consumers have been duped into believing Dannon’s false advertising claims, Activia is now the best-selling yogurt in 25 countries, accounting for over 40% of Dannon’s total sales worldwide.” (12)
So, the illusory claims of Danone have boosted profit for the company, but they have also placed the reliability of the company’s provision of information about the products into question.
Ethical issues with the company have also been found around animal testing with often inhumane methods, it does not use free-range or organic farms, and it sponsors horse racing which is often considered a cruel sport (13).
Many other brands would be a more ethical and sound choice!
Revenue example: 87 billion
– Brands –
Gerber Baby Food . Perrier . DiGiorno . Hot Pockets . Butterfinger . KitKat . Delissio . Stouffers . Nescafe . Coffee-mate . Nespresso . Taster’s choice . Aero . OhHenry . Rolo . Coffee Crisp . Crunch . Smarties . Goobers . After Eight . Mirage . Cailler . Turtles . Black Magic . Mack . Perrier . Nestea . Pure Life . Vittel . Poland Spring . S Pellegrino . Mont Clair . Drumstick . Movenpick . Dreyers . Parlour . Powerbar . Carnation . Gerber . Chef-mate . Nesquik . Purina . Beneful . Cat Chow . Dog Chow . Friskies . Fancy Feast . Felix . Alpo . Wonka Sweets . Loreal . Ralph Lauren . Giorgio Armani . Yves Saint Laurent . Stella McCartney . Diesel . Garnier . Vichy . Biotherm . The Body Shop . Ombrelle . Maybelline . Kiehl’s
There have been many ethical issues with Nestle. They test many products on animals with cruel experiments, they use factory farming which may involve zero-grazing (the animals stay indoors), and the amount of dairy in the products is more than any other ingredient (14).
If this doesn’t seem bad enough, they may also be responsible for harm to children.
“There is a long standing boycott of Nestlé over its irresponsible marketing of breast milk substitutes. Boycotters have long accused Nestlé of harming children through the unethical promotion of infant formula…Baby Milk Action quotes UNICEF “Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute.” (15)
It is certainly not advisable to trust Nestle with advice about caring for your children! There are many alternative infant formulas on the market and a more dependable source should definitely be obtained for advice about breastfeeding!
Revenue example: 63 Billion
– Brand –
Pepsi . Quaker Oatmeal . Cheetos . Tropicana . KFC . Taco Bell . Pizza Hut . Looza . Mirinda . Mug Root Beer . Aquafina . Mountain Dew . Lipton . Dole . AMP . 7UP . Brisk . Ocean Spray . SoBe . Life . Crispy Minis . Aunt Jemima . Harvest Crunch . Chewy . Ruffles . Miss Vickie’s . Cracker Jack . Fritos . Sun Chips . Tostitos . Rold Gold . Spitz . Lays . Doritos . Walkers Crisps . Copella . Nobby’s . Snack a Jacks . Red Sky
There is a substantial amount of salt and sugar in many of PepsiCo’s products which contributes to many long-term health conditions including hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and strokes for salt whilst increasing the risk of obesity and diabetes for sugar. Nevertheless, the company continues to market unhealthy foods against the factual consensus of that which is healthy.
“PepsiCo continues to market its unhealthy products to children – at times even running foul of the law, despite numerous promises to the contrary…In addition, last year PepsiCo joined a powerful group of food lobbyists calling themselves the “Sensible Food Policy Coalition,” whose sole purpose was to derail an effort by the U.S. government to improve the food industry’s voluntary guidelines for marketing to children.” (16)
PepsiCo evidently does not have the health of individuals at the forefront of their concerns!
Revenue example: 44.3 billion
– Brands –
Dasani . Fuze . Honest Tea . Vitaminwater . Smartwater . Sprite . Mezzo Mix . Minute Maid . Fruitopia . Five Alive . Bangs . Fanta . Nestea . Dasani . Powerade . Mello Yello . Full Throttle . Nos Energy Drink
Ethical issues with Coca-Cola have also been found. These include obstructing worker’s rights, the use of fish gelatin in its products, and supporting rodeos which involve animal abuse. (17) Their treatment of workers and general conduct has also been poor over the years. This includes “item security, hostile to aggressiveness, racial segregation, channel stuffing, wholesaler clashes, terrorizing of union laborers, contamination, and exhaustion of common assets.” (18)
Coca-Cola would not be marked up for a high standard of ethical practice in business!
Revenue example: 33 billion
– Brands –
M&M’s . Uncle Ben’s Rice . Starburst . Orbit Gum . Bounty . Twix . Maltesers . Dove . Milky Way . Snickers . Mars . Wrigley . Altoids . Skittles . Life Savers . Whiskas . Pedigree . James Wellbeloved . Royal Canin . Hubba Bubba . Orbit . Extra . Big Red . Juicy Fruit . Doublemint . Excel . 5 Gum . Freedent . Dolmio . Cesar . Sheba . Galaxy . Chappie . Nutro . Seeds of Change . Celebrations
Both Mars and Nestle have unethical concerns that have been raised about them of the same type. Their cat and dog food are advised against, by ethicalconsumer.org, based on factors including unsustainable fish, animal testing, palm oil, and factory farming (19, 20). Organic and free-range pet food would always be a much more ethical choice!
Moreover, both Mars and Nestle have been involved in ethical issues concerning their workers. They have used child labor, trafficking, and slavery in the past years (21). This corruption cannot be overlooked.
Revenue example: 29.6 billion
– Brands –
Oreo . Trident Gum . Sour Patch Kids . Maxwell House . Nabob . Velveeta . Cracker Barret . Philadelphia . Polly-O . Singles . P’tit Quebec . Cheez Whiz . Claussen . David . Magic Baking Powder . Baker’s . Kraft Dinner . Mr Christie’s . Knox . Certo . Oscar Meyer . Shake N Bake . Stove Top . Crystal Light . Del Monte . Kool-Aid . Capri-Sun . A1 Steak Sauce . Cool Whip . Handi-Snacks . Jell-O . Planters . Bulls-Eye . Jetpuffed . Mayo . Miracle Whip . Cadbury . Halls . Chiclets . Certs . Bubblicious . Stride . Dentyne . Trident . Clorets . Terry’s Chocolate Orange . Milka . Carte Noir . Toblerone . Green and Blacks . Cote D’or . Premium . Snackwells . Ritz . Cheese Nips . Triscuit . Belvita . Wheat Thins . Trebor . Maynards . Cherry Ripe . Crispy Crunch . Twirl . Caramilk . Nutter Butter . Honey Maid . Teddy Grahams . Lu . Fudgee-O . Fig Newtons . Nilla . Chips Ahoy . Tang . Tassimo
The integrity of Mondelez has been dubious due to its inaccurate labeling of products. This includes the labeling of belVita biscuits as having “NUTRITIOUS SUSTAINED ENERGY” (22). This suggests they are healthy despite the fact that they contain a large amount of sugar which does provide energy, but also may contribute to many health conditions like diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. Another misleading labeling case involves the use of ‘real cocoa’ on the label of Oreos when it had been refined and processed (23). This is yet another example of twisting the facts for financial gain.
This vegan ice cream company is multi award-winning. They use only organic ingredients and endeavor to be honest in their provision of information. Their products contain very simple ingredients and no harmful additives.
This is a very ethical company with values “Planet, People, Passion, Precision.” (24) Their ingredients are sourced from small, organic, Fairtrade farmers.
This company sells tea, coconut products, superfoods, and spices. The products are organic without harmful chemicals and are ethically farmed. The farming is sustainable with biodiversity in consideration and the products are high quality.
This is an ideal place to purchase many different high quality products. It is also a perfect site to acquire non-toxic, ethical, organic, eco-friendly soap bars and cleaning products from small businesses. Examples include:
- Lemongrass, Rosemary & Hempseed 100% Natural Organic Shampoo Bar – Normal to Oily Hair
- All Purpose Cleaner, 16 oz – Chemical Free – All Natural – Eco Friendly – Non Toxic – Made with Essential Oils
The products are eco-friendly with no plastic involved in the production, they are not tested on animals, and they contain natural, non-toxic ingredients.
These bars are organic, plant-based, and contain simple ingredients with no noxious additives.
These bars are also raw, vegan, and organic. Additionally, they are non-GMO, and there is no sugar or artificial additives added.
This chocolate is plant-based, organic, sugar-free, and additive free! The four ingredients are simple and pure!
This chocolate is organic and Fairtrade with high quality ingredients and a range of flavors.
This chocolate is organic, Fairtrade, free from harmful additives, and sweetened with unrefined coconut blossom nectar. The products are also environmentally friendly and the company supports the indigenous cultures that work with them.
These crackers are vegan, organic, and non-GMO. There is no toxic ingredients and all ingredients are sourced with careful consideration of biodiversity and the environment.
A juice box is a fabulous way to start drinking pure juice without detrimental additives in order to consume a multitude of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants!
These drinks are organic, non-GMO, and free of additives due to clever preservation processes. There is also eco-friendly packaging.
These plantain chips are plant-based, and non-GMO with no additives or preservatives. The products are sourced with consideration of the environment and the workers.
These products are organic, non-GMO, and contain no additives or preservatives.
These Kamut Puffs are alkaline, organic, sugar-free, salt-free, and additive-free.
These yoghurts include a range of flavors which are all plant-based. There is no harmful additives, simple ingredients, and the ingredients are ethically sourced.
Yarrah is an organic pet food that is ethically produced with no animal testing. There is no unfriendly additives or GMO ingredients.
- Taylor, K., 2016. These 10 Companies Control Everything You Buy. [online] Business Insider. Available at: <https://www.businessinsider.com/10-companies-control-the-food-industry-2016-9?r=US&IR=T> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Johnson, D., 2017. Oxfam: Ten Multinational Corporations Control Most Food Brands | Ourfuture.Org By People’s Action. [online] Available at: <https://ourfuture.org/20170105/oxfam-ten-multinational-corporations-control-most-food-brands> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Ethical Consumer. 2020. How Ethical Is Unilever?. [online] Available at: <https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/company-profile/unilever> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Flickr. 2015. Online Shopping. [online] Available at: <https://www.flickr.com/photos/robbertjnoordzij/22257890101/> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Starling, S., 2011. Kellogg’S To Pay $5M For False Rice Krispies Immunity Claims. [online] nutraingredients-usa.com. Available at: <https://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Article/2011/01/13/Kellogg-s-to-pay-5m-for-false-Rice-Krispies-immunity-claims> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- WorldHealthChoice 2017. Avoid Kellogg’S Products! They Are Full Of Gmos And Toxic Ingredients. [online] World Health Choice ®. Available at: <http://worldhealthchoice.com/kelloggs-products-toxic-ingredients/> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Ellen, M., 2020. GMO Weed Killer’S Cancer Risk | Just Label It. [online] Justlabelit.org. Available at: <http://www.justlabelit.org/gmo-weed-killers-cancer-risk/#:~:text=GMO%20Weed%20Killer%E2%80%99s%20Cancer%20Risk.%20Glyphosate%20%E2%80%93%20the,scientists%20at%20the%20World%20Health%20Organization%20announced%20today> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Cardoza, R., 2017. Why You Should Be Worried About The Chemicals In Your Cereal | Eat This Not That. [online] Eat This Not That. Available at: <https://www.eatthis.com/chemicals-in-cereal/> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Henley, W., 2013. Is Associated British Foods Less Transparent Than Nestlé And Coca Cola?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/associated-british-foods-transparent-nestle-coca-cola> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Strom, S., 2012. Lawsuit Forces General Mills To Defend The Accuracy Of Its ‘Natural’ Labeling. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/27/business/general-mills-sued-over-natural-labeling.html> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Watson, E., 2019. General Mills Prevails In False Ad Lawsuit Over Sugar Content In Cereals… After Three-Year Battle. [online] foodnavigator-usa.com. Available at: <https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2019/08/14/General-Mills-prevails-in-false-ad-lawsuit-over-sugar-content-in-cereals-after-three-year-battle> [Accessed 18 August 2020].
- Thomas, C., 2009. Dannon Slammed With $35 Million False Advertising Settlement Over Activia Probiotic Yogurt. [online] The Ethical Nag. Available at: <https://ethicalnag.org/2009/10/06/yogurt/> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Ethical Consumer. 2020. Stories | Ethical Consumer. [online] Available at: <https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/stories/1372104%201357844%201448618%201448618%201393017%201448619#:~:text=According%20to%20a%20press%20release%20by%20Cruelty%20Free,stated%20were%20carried%20out%20to%20prove%20%E2%80%98health%20benefits.%E2%80%99> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
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- Ethical Consumer. 2020. How Ethical Is Nestlé SA? | Ethical Consumer. [online] Available at: <https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/company-profile/nestle-sa> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Simon, M., 2012. A Leopard Like Pepsico Cannot Change Its Spots. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/pepsico-corporate-social-responsibility-public-health> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Ethical Consumer. 2020. How Ethical Is Coca-Cola Company, The? | Ethical Consumer. [online] Available at: <https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/company-profile/coca-cola-company> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Coursebb.com. 2020. Case Study: The Coca-Cola Company Struggles With Ethical Crises – Coursebb. [online] Available at: <https://www.coursebb.com/2017/01/03/case-study-coca-cola-company-struggles-ethical-crises/> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Ethical Consumer. 2020. Cat Food | Ethical Consumer. [online] Available at: <https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/shopping-guide/cat-food/> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Ethical Consumer. 2020. Dog Food | Ethical Consumer. [online] Available at: <https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/shopping-guide/dog-food> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Nieburg, O., 2015. Mars, Nestlé And Hershey Face Fresh Cocoa Child Labor Class Action Lawsuits. [online] confectionerynews.com. Available at: <https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2015/09/30/Mars-Nestle-and-Hershey-face-fresh-cocoa-child-labor-lawsuits> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Shaak, E., 2017. Lawsuit Claims Belvita Breakfast Products Deceptively Labeled. [online] Classaction.org. Available at: <https://www.classaction.org/news/lawsuit-claims-belvita-breakfast-products-deceptively-labeled> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- The Daily Intake. 2020. Judge Dismisses Class Action Lawsuit For Oreo “Made With Real Cocoa” Claims (Subscription To Law360 Required) | The Daily Intake. [online] Available at: <https://www.dailyintakeblog.com/2020/07/judge-dismisses-class-action-lawsuit-for-oreo-made-with-real-cocoa-claims-subscription-to-law360-required/> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Ethicteas.com. 2020. Ethical Tea | Manufacture Of High Quality Ceylon Organic Tea. [online] Available at: <https://ethicteas.com/about-us.php> [Accessed 19 August 2020].