Investor engagement to address corporate lobbies is critical to tackling food-related disease

Providing legislation, regulation and standards that promote sustainable and more equitable development is central to addressing sustainability issues. One obstacle is corporate lobbies designed to mitigate or even hinder effective policy change. We invite other investors to join us in intensifying engagement with companies on this important topic.

The effects of corporate lobbying have become apparent in recent years in relation to climate change. Extensive research by InfluenceMap, an independent non-profit think tank, has revealed how. Its findings have been incorporated into the Net Zero Corporate Benchmark released by Climate Action 100+ (CA100+), widely used by investors to rate and engage with companies on this topic.

In recent years, we have engaged with many major issuers to ask them to align both their direct lobbying and that of the industry associations to which they belong (known as indirect lobbying) with the goals of the Paris Agreement in accordance with the Global Standard on Corporate Climate Lobbying. We launched this standard in 2022 with AP7 and the Church of England Pension Council. We have achieved considerable success (see pages 46-47 of our Global Sustainability Report 2021).

We are now also tackling another topic that clearly needs ambitious policy change: diet and health.

Driving change: food systems

Together, poor diets now generate more disease worldwide than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.[1] About 2.6 billion people – 38% of the world’s population – are overweight or obese. Of these, over 1 billion people worldwide are obese: 650 million adults, 340 million adolescents and 39 million children, as shown in Table 1.

If recent trends continue, without the widespread adoption of taxes and limits on the promotion of unhealthy foods, those numbers are projected to rise to more than 4 billion people (51%) in 12 years, according to research by the World Obesity Federation.[2]

The more overweight a person is, the more likely they are to suffer from a range of diet-related diseases, including heart disease and stroke, type II diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and 13 cancers (see Appendix 2). High levels of diet-related diseases impair a country’s economic growth, eat up substantial shares of their health care budgets, reduce worker productivity in all sectors, and impose severe burdens on individuals and families, especially those on low incomes.[3], [4]

Just as with climate change, the solution to the diet-driven global health crisis lies not in individual action, but in systems change. Narratives about people needing to take more personal responsibility and discipline themselves to eat better are gradually being replaced by those who recognize this.

One of the main reasons for a poor diet is lack of access to and affordability of healthy, unprocessed foods, with highly processed convenience foods high in fat, sugar and salt being more readily available and cheaper, often supported by subsidies and other distorted policies.

The World Health Organization and public health advocates have long supported policy measures such as stricter front-of-pack (FOP) labeling requirements, restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and fiscal measures such as sugar taxes. Policy makers are increasingly heeding their calls. The World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF) tracks all these advances in its NOURISH database and earlier this year recorded the 1,000th policy action of its kind in Europe alone.[5]

Withhold change

However, there is mounting evidence that food and beverage companies are obstructing, preventing and undermining policy proposals directly and through trade associations. This is despite more and more of them committing themselves to supporting public health and nutrition and urging industry-wide progress.

As signatories to the Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) Investor Expectations on Nutrition, Diets and Health, we were delighted that in December 2022, ATNI released a benchmark of commitments related to lobbying, largest food and beverage companies in the world, and disclosure.

ATNI has evaluated companies’ practices against the Responsible Lobbying Framework (RLF). This provides investors with a starting point for commitment to support the third pillar of investor expectations: “Companies should… adopt the five principles and associated management practices established in [RLF]: legitimacy, transparency, coherence, accountability and opportunity.”

The results of the assessment were worrying: the average score was 21% across all companies, with individual scores ranging between 3% and 50%. While there has been wide variation in business maturity, current practice is clearly far from the standard set out in the RLF.

Commit to change

We have begun engaging with some of the rated companies held in our portfolios using ATNI findings. We want to encourage them to:

  1. Establish high-level commitments to lobby in support of public health policy measures
  2. Translate them into action through effective management systems
  3. Be open and transparent about their activities through full disclosure.[6]

We urge other investors to join us in amplifying our voice and getting food companies to lobby in support of policy measures to improve diets and public health, and to fully disclose their advocacy efforts.

[1] GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators, ‘Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017’ (2019) The Lancet 393(10184): 1958–72 https:// www.

[2] World_Obesity_Atlas_2023_Press_Release.pdf (

[3] OECD, The Heavy Burden of Obesity: The Economics of Prevention (2019, OECD Publishing, Paris) https://doi. org/10.1787/67450d67-it.

[4] The World Bank, ‘The World Bank and nutrition’ (2019)

[5] Nutrition in Europe: work needs to be done | WCRF International [6] It is important to note that the ATNI research was not designed to identify examples of corporate lobbying of health and nutrition policy measures.


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