Lobbying for Good: Why investors should be lobbying for a better food system

Food system

Lobbying for good: Why investors should look for opportunities to do proactive, strategic lobbying for a healthy and sustainable food system by Rachel Crossley, Head of Stewardship, Europe at BNP Paribas Asset Management and Sarah Buszard, Responsible Investor Engagement Lead at The Food Foundation 

Why are investors interested in policy development, and what corporate lobbying is taking place?

There is a general – yet perhaps erroneous – perception that institutional investors only get involved in policy development directly related to the finance sector, such as sustainable finance regulation. With respect to corporate lobbying, the bulk of evidence also seems to indicate that businesses often lobby against government policy.

Analysis by organisations such as Influence Map, an independent think tank, show how the world's largest and most influential companies and industry associations seek to influence climate policy. And the US-based non-profit OpenSecrets, whose data revealed that for the 1998–2020 period the ultra-processed food industry spent $1.15 billion on lobbying.

However, we – and an increasing number of other institutional investors – are acutely aware of the material long-term financial risks – systemic, direct and transitional – associated with a failure to make healthier and more sustainable diets affordable and accessible for everyone.

Some food businesses have also realised that their long-term success depends on the transformation of the global food system so that it operates within planetary boundaries and delivers healthy diets for everyone. Given how wide, deep and urgent the necessary changes are, they have to be driven by root and branch policy and regulatory reform.  

What can investors and businesses do to help shift the dial on food systems transformation? 

If investors and businesses want such wholesale reform, they have to say so. They need to speak up and make their views known to policymakers and parliamentarians, to show that there is support for this kind of reform among the private sector, and to counter the voices of those who try to water down or shelve reform altogether.

An example of this kind of proactive, strategic advocacy was the recent roundtable organised by The Food Foundation (an independent UK charity working to address challenges in the food system) at the House of Lords with the aim of providing forward-thinking investors and food businesses with an opportunity to put forward their vision for a healthy and sustainable food system.

The event, on 23 April 2024, was hosted by Baroness Anne Jenkin (Conservative Peer) and attended by Shadow Minister for DEFRA, Daniel Zeichner MP. Vidhya Alakeson, Director of External Affairs for Keir Starmer, was also in the room.

Investors and businesses were invited based on the leadership they are already demonstrating in tackling either (or both) the health or environmental crises. They included: BNP Paribas Asset Management, Compass Group UK & Ireland, Cook Foods, The Co-operative, Danone, Greenbank, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation, Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Sodexo and Tesco. 

Can you tell us a bit more about this roundtable?

  • The session aimed to put across what the participants believe should be four key tenets of future food policy:
  • A clear direction of travel for the UK’s food sector (e.g. a Food Bill, joined up internal Governmental processes across multiple departments) 
  • Government intervention (e.g. mandatory reporting, fiscal interventions)   
  • Supply chain resilience in a changing world (e.g. procuring British produce, horticulture, inflationary impacts of climate change)    
  • Support for food businesses to deliver net zero, recognising that the food system generates one third of all emissions and net zero cannot be achieved without action by the food sector (e.g. reducing scope 3 emissions, meat reduction, regenerative agriculture and Environmental Land Management schemes [ELMs], food waste) 

Although the themes covered several issues, the speakers’ message that rang loudest was the need for more regulation and stronger intervention from the UK Government in order to raise standards and create a level playing field for the food sector as whole.

You can read more about the vision and common asks from investors and businesses in The Food Foundation’s blog about the roundtable here.

Why are investors important stakeholders in policy development discussions? 

Investors have significant influence over businesses and the wider economy as the owners of companies and providers of capital. It is because of this influence and the birds-eye view we have of the challenges and opportunities facing companies and the wider economy that institutional investors should be recognised as a key stakeholder group in policy development who will support well-designed regulation to address these challenges and opportunities.  

What would you say to other investors who might be thinking about engaging in policy?

We urge all institutional investors to look for opportunities to proactively advocate for long-term, joined-up policies to underpin the creation of genuinely sustainable future economies.

This will help to mitigate the many systemic risks that threaten long-term returns while at the same time creating new investment opportunities. It is important that politicians know that there is support for this kind of sustainability-focused ambitious policy within the private sector.

We would also encourage NGOs or other organisations that want to see major policy changes to organise these kinds of meetings and invite us – and the companies in which we invest – to be involved. There does seem to be a gap to be filled in the policy development sphere, as we do not see many organisations fulfilling this role.  

If you would like to find out more about the Investor Coalition on Food Policy and its work, please click here.

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