Study finds corporate domination of food banks fails to address household food insecurity

YFile Featured image shows a FOOD Bank

A new study out of York University finds that civil society organizations (CSOs) such as food banks and food diversion schemes that are led by corporate sector board members may be creating barriers to overcoming household food insecurity (HFI).

Critics have previously identified the corporate and business sector as contributing to HFI through their endorsement of low wages, anti-union activities and lobbying for retrenchment of the Canadian welfare state. This observation leads to cause for concern that this same corporate and business sector may be coming to dominate positions on the boards of directors of CSOs with missions to reduce household food insecurity, suggest the authors of “Corporate and business domination of food banks and food diversion schemes in Canada.”

Dennis Raphael
Dennis Raphael

The paper, published in Capital and Class, was led by York University Health Policy and Equity graduate students Anahita Azadian, Mary Catherine Masciangelo and Zsofia Mendly-Zambo in collaboration with Alan Taman of Birmingham City University, U.K., and York University Professor Dennis Raphael.

“We investigated this possibility by examining the boards of directors of four CSOs concerned with household food insecurity in Canada: Food Banks Canada (the flagship food banks association in Canada); The Daily Bread Food Bank (the largest food bank in Canada), Second Harvest Food Rescue (Canada’s largest food rescue agency) and the National Zero Waste Council (the primary national agency advocating for food diversion),” said Raphael, a professor in the Faculty of Health’s School of Health Policy & Management.

The authors found:

  • All four members of Food Bank Canada’s Board of Directors executive are from the corporate and business sector, and of the additional 11 members of the board, six are from the corporate and business sector.
  • All four executive positions of the Board of Directors of the Daily Bread Food Banks are held by men or women from the business and corporate sector, and of the 10 other directors, eight come from the corporate and business sector.
  • All 12 directors of Second Harvest Food Rescue – including the executive – are from the corporate and business sector.
  • Of the 27 management board members of the National Zero Waste Council, 20 are from the business sector, three are politicians and three others come from a charity, food bank and a municipal association.

The authors carefully reviewed the statements and documents issued by these organizations and found no mention of the role that unionization of the workplace could play in reducing HFI or that there is value in raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to restore Canada’s social safety net.

“This is not surprising as many of the corporate and business members of their boards of directors come from companies on record as opposing these proposed means of reducing food insecurity,” said Raphael.

The authors point out that the media, the food banks, sports teams, businesses and schools continually target the Canadian public with messages about importance of food banks and food diversion schemes with little to be said about the structural sources of HFI: the inequitable distribution of income brought on by low wages; low unionization rates; and a deficient social safety net necessitated by low taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

The study states “No greater contradiction between these CSOs’ mission of reducing HFI can be seen than having as the chair of the board of directors of FBC (Food Bank Canada), an executive vice-president of Walmart Canada, whose business practices – low wages and few benefits, and ongoing anti-unionization activities – contribute to household food insecurity.”

Further, the authors urge these organizations to avoid having corporate members dominate their boards of directors, thereby removing a barrier to their calling for public policies that likely would go against profit-making at the expense of creating hunger.

“Embracing the corporate and business sector by having their members dominate their boards of directors and avoiding mention of public policies that, while they would reduce household food insecurity, would go against the interests of these corporate and business board members, is not a solution to household food insecurity in Canada or elsewhere,” the study reads.