Sugar buyers told to 'tighten supply chains' to stop land grabs

1 October 2013

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2 October 2013 | Gurjit Degun

Food and drink manufacturers must “tighten their supply chains” so the sugar they use is not grown on land that has been seized from poor people.

That’s the stark warning given to PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Associated British Foods (ABF) in a new report from Oxfam today, which explained sugar production is predicted to increase by 25 per cent by 2020.

Nothing sweet about it: How sugar fuels land grabs links land disputes with companies that supply sugar for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products; as well as alleged disputes with ABF.

Oxfam said it has evidence of where local communities that rely on land are evicted without consent or compensation – often violently. It is therefore calling on ABF, Coca Cola and PepsiCo to commit to zero tolerance of land grabs throughout their supply chains.

It said: “They should publicly disclose who and where they source their commodities, publish assessments about how the sugar they purchase affects local communities’ land rights, and use their power to encourage governments and the wider food industry to respect land rights.

“All three companies scored poorly or very poorly on their land policies in Oxfam’s Behind the Brands scorecard.”

Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said that the three companies are in a “prime position to stamp out land grabs”. 

He said: “Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are among the world’s biggest producers and buyers of sugar. They are in a prime position to stamp out land grabs by ensuring that the sugar they use is not grown on land that is taken against the wishes of the community. Their focus on this could transform the industry.”

A statement from ABF said: “This report mentions Associated British Foods. The company is unclear why it has been included in this publication, given there is no evidence at all of any ‘land grabs’ on its behalf.”

It added: “In South Africa, Illovo (ABF’s African subsidiary) has distributed more company-owned cane land to black farmers than any other sugar company in that country and did so voluntarily, earlier than required by legislation.

“It has a fine record of working with those farmers to ensure the continued commercial viability of that land and it runs important and innovative programs with government and with famers in KwaZulu-Natal to ensure the long-term sustainability of farms now under black ownership.”

Coca-Cola said in a statement: “We are asking our suppliers to recognise and safeguard the rights of communities to maintain access to land and natural resources. We are working to promote respect for human and workplace rights by the farm and the employer of workers at the farm, whether or not the employer is the farm itself.

“We have agreed to convene a facilitated stakeholder dialogue to discuss Oxfam’s overall findings of the assessments and next steps, demonstrating the company’s commitment to transparency and the importance placed on stakeholder engagement”.

SM is awaiting a response from PepsiCo.

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