This report by IPES-Food, documents a history of growing corporate influence over the governance of the food system. As transnational food and farming companies grow ever bigger, they have convinced governments that they must be central in all discussion on the future of food, and their ability to set the agenda of the food system is ever increasing as a result. The authors propose a set of transformative solutions to democratise decision making and redress the balance of power in the food system.
Increasingly, large corporations are staking claims as legitimate actors in democratic food system governance spaces. This takeover has been legitimated and normalised by public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder roundtables with corporations playing a central role, as well as public food system governance initiatives becoming increasingly reliant on private funding. This influence can be seen in the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, the Food and Land Use Coalition and the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement. However, other less visible tactics include private sector enterprises providing political and institutional donations, shaping trading & investment rules and research strategies, and other structural aspects of global food systems. Examples of this can be seen in the reliance of CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) on private investment. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed more to CGIAR’s operations in 2020 than any individual government. It was recently revealed that the FAO has also closely collaborated with corporations through industry partnerships throughout its history. As a result academics, social movements and advocacy groups have expressed concerns over the influence corporations have over the food system and the potential for this to weaken the positive social outcomes of the food system.
Corporate consolidation is having multiple negative effects on the outcomes of the food system. Firstly, private players are not accountable to the public or regulatory bodies, which can foster inadequate monitoring of safety, quality and sustainability outcomes. There is also limited transparency as private players may not disclose information about their practices over fear of competition. Furthermore, there is a general prioritisation of profit over public good leading to compromise on food system outcomes for the public good. Prioritisation of profit leads to investment in large-scale production and retail, monoculture farming and high levels of automation, at the expense of small-scale and marginalised communities, creating unequal distributions of benefits from the food system. The increased access of corporations to individuals’ data also allows corporations to influence and shape consumption patterns in their own interest.
The authors structure their recommendation around two central actions:
- Addressing the influence of corporations at all levels of decision making. This could be achieved through Corporate Accountability Frameworks and robust and enforced conflict of interest policies.
- Creating new autonomous governance spaces for peoples organisations, social movements, other civil society actors and affected communities to engage with decision-making on food on their own terms. This could be achieved through creating accessible conflict of interest and grievance policies, as well as reinforcing human rights in the food system.