27 January 2016

The Access to Nutrition Index 2016 (ATNI) - A Strong Second Showing

I am a fan of the Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI). 

ATNI collects data (including a big chunk of self-reported) from 25 of the largest food and beverage companies in the world.  This is the first report since 2013 (19 of the 25 companies are featured in both 2013 and 2016 reports, although the numbers are not comparable since there are many new questions).

I am a fan because, like the Global Nutrition Report, ATNI seeks to both shine a light on practices and commitments and also to serve as a beacon on the way forward.  The index scores companies across 7 categories, with an additional breast milk substitutes (BMS) category for the companies that derive more than 5% of their sales from baby foods.

So what are the key findings of the newly released 2016 report (the second after the first in 2013)?

The scores are pretty bad.  The median score for the companies across all 7 categories (out of 10) is 2.4.  The top score is 6.4 (Unilever). Five companies scored below 1, principally because they did not provide data to Sustainalytics the firm that conducted the data collection for ATNI. And remember these scores don’t have to max out at 10 because this merely signifies that a company is achieving best practice against the current state of knowledge—companies could do better than best practice.

Some categories of performance are a real problem for the sector: accessibility (are healthy and fortified foods affordable and accessible to those who need them most?) has an average score  of 1.2 and engagement with governments scored an average of 1.0 largely because many companies were unwilling to disclose their activities in this area.

None of the 6 breast milk substitute companies in the set of 25 companies (Danone, Nestle, FrieslandCampina, Heinz, Abbot and Mead Johnson) apply their policies in all markets as recommended by the BMS Code—instead they apply them differentially in high risk and low risk markets. All 5 companies other than Nestle state they will follow local regulations even if weaker than their own policies (which are weaker than the code).  This is a really depressing failure of leadership and one with potentially fatal consequences for children.

None of the companies have integrated undernutrition at a strategic level.  Businesses have not grasped the nettle of developing affordability healthy products for potential customers at the bottom of the pyramid.

Most companies do not systematically or structurally implement and report on their stated nutrition commitments.  This is pretty troubling from an accountability perspective. 

Reflections on ATNI 2016?  I have not read the full report, only the 35 page summary, but here goes:

*I would like to see more reflection on how ATNI is being used, especially by the food and beverage investment advisors—does it change their recommendations to their clients?  I would also like to know more about why some companies provide data and some don’t—good to interview the latter.

*The BMS adjustment seems timid.  At one extreme, one could say that any BMS violations, because of their serious impacts on mortality, should result in a zero overall score.  Another less radical approach would be to multiply the other scores by the proportional BMS score, so if a company with a non BMS score of 5.0 overall gets a BMS score of 2/10, their overall score would be adjusted to 5x0.2=1.0.  At the moment the BMS score is deducted from the overall score.  Currently its BMS scores are keeping Nestle from attaining the overall number 1 spot, but the overall rankings of the 6 BMS manufacturers are not altered that dramatically.

*I can’t figure out why the weighting for “promoting healthier lifestyles among employees and customers” provides such a low contribution to the overall score (2.5%).  If there is a mounting global crisis and if companies have powerful global reach, surely their efforts to do more in this area would attract more than 2.5% of the overall score?

ATNI is on the way towards becoming a really powerful tool to effect change. To do that it needs to rely more on the kinds of in country research it undertook in Indonesia and Vietnam.  This is where we see how policies, values and governance plays out at the front line.

I would also like to see the Access to Nutrition Foundation (who are behind ATNI) be more ambitious on strengthening the public dialogue around business and nutrition. 

As my colleagues will tell you I am puzzled as to why more companies are not stepping up and going beyond best practice when it comes to advancing nutrition.  Surely there is money in it, as well as nutrition.  Dialogue might uncover the win-wins we are all looking for (or perhaps it will reveal they are far and few between, I don’t know).      

All in all, and based on the extensive summary document, this is a strong second showing for ATNI and my congratulations to the team who produced it and the funders who had the vision to supported it.

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