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SOCIAL THRESHOLD #12 ACCESS TO FOOD: Not just a low-income country problem

At Article 13 we believe meaningful sustainability starts with what the world needs, that’s why the 9 Planetary Boundaries and 12 Social Thresholds are our start point for any corporate impact assessment.

World Food day gives us the opportunity to examine Social Threshold #12 access to food. This is measured by the % of the population under-nourished. The Food Aid Foundation reports that currently 1 in 8 people in the world do not have enough food and are under-nourished.

Over the next 50 years, we will need to produce as much food as we have for the past 1000 years, this requires new innovation and, at the same time, new models for distribution of health and nutritious food. Given the nexus between food, health, energy and water this represents a key opportunity for a wide array of businesses.

We looked at how the world’s largest companies are reporting their own impact on access to food. Our research showed that only 12% of companies are measuring their impact on access to food but and just 6% have set targets to help.

These figures have not changed over the past 2 years

Much has been documented about people who are trapped in a cycle of hunger by systemic forces beyond their immediate control like poverty, disaster, conflict, and inequality but these reports are usually concerned with populations in low income countries.

However, some startling figures show that the problem is also prevalent much closer to home with >8m people in the UK struggling to get enough to eat [1].

Earlier this year, the UK Environmental Audit Committee published their latest report on the Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow-up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK. The major finding was that Food insecurity is significant and growing in the UK, with levels among the worst in Europe, especially for children.

  • 1 in 10 children in the UK experience severe food insecurity [2]

  • 4m children in Britain are at risk of malnutrition as a result of living in poverty [3]

This is further endorsed by the UK's biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust. They gave 1.6 million packs of food supplies in the past year, representing a 19% annual increase. But this is only the official figures, Unofficial foodbank facilities are prevalent everywhere. Universities have set up foodbanks to help students with access to food, supermarkets have ‘always on’ foodbank donation initiatives and a ‘foodbanks near me’ search delivers results even in the wealthier suburbs. Food retailers are beginning to address food waste which can have many benefits. As well as improved food security for people and communities, it can also help to reduce demands on the planet and food prices for consumers.

The opportunity for companies to help address access to food in their own communities is huge whether it’s a focus on reducing food waste, increasing food security, improved nutrition or the promotion of sustainable agriculture.

For all the corporate sector to play its part in the achievement of global - and local - access to food targets, it must address its real impact on the societal thresholds and base reduction targets on what the world needs them to do.

For further information - please see


1. Food Foundation 2018

2. UNICEF 2019

3. Food Foundation 2018

1. How were companies selected

Companies were selected according to four factors to ensure a representative sample size. Ability to impact planetary limits (e.g. largest companies globally by revenue); Public commitment to sustainability (e.g. constituents of sustainability leadership rankings such as Corporate Knights); Representatives of largest companies by regional stock exchange and by super-sector listing. Representatives by geography (largest companies for different regions: Europe, Middle East and Africa, North America, South America, Asia and Australia)

2. Planetary boundaries and social thresholds

Planetary boundaries: In 2009, Johan Rockström and 28 scientists identified the nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system. They proposed quantitative planetary boundaries. Crossing these boundaries increases the risk of generating large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental changes. Social thresholds: In 2016, Kate Raworth (Oxfam) combined the nine planetary boundaries with twelve social thresholds, which set out quantifiable basic needs for all people. The planetary boundaries and social thresholds were key scientific inputs to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

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