Oxfam land report names and shames big brands

A NEW REPORT by Oxfam on the use of land for sugar crops in developing countries makes claims that some of the biggest food and drink brands in the world are not doing enough to stop poor people from being forced from their land and homes to make way to grow crops



The report, Nothing Sweet about It: How Sugar Fuels Land Grabs, suggests that the global demand for sugar is forcing local people in developing countries across Africa and South America out of their homes in a rush to buy up land for plantation use.


The report goes on to link major brands such as Associated British Foods (ABF) Coca-Cola and PepsiCo with disputes over land grabs.


Land grabbing is as term used to refer to large-scale land acquisitions; either the long-term leasing or buying of large swaths of land in developing countries.  The practice became particularly prevalent after the 2007-2008 global food crisis, which saw food prices rise dramatically causing political and economic unrest across the world.


As a result of the report Oxfam is now calling for the companies to tighten their supply chains so the ingredients they use in their products are not grown on land that has been ‘grabbed’ from communities that depend on it for their survival.


Oxfam’s Chief Executive Mark Goldring said: “We all need reassurance that what we are consuming is not contributing to the world’s most vulnerable being evicted from their land without consent or compensation.   Large corporations must take responsibility to ensure that their goods are not tainted by this scandal happening in remote places many miles from the board room.”


Sugar production is predicted to increase by 25% by 2020. The global sugar trade is worth around £29 billion. The world produced 176 million tonnes of sugar last year and the food and drinks industry accounts for more than half of it.


In response to the report, which highlighted cases where communities in Brazil and Cambodia where local residents have been forced into poverty to make way for sugar mills, Coca-Cola issued a statement promising to review  the report and start talks for better practice:


“At The Coca-Cola Company, through our Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles, 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.


“Regarding the cases in Cambodia and Brazil, we sympathise with the citizens whose lives and livelihoods have been affected.  While the Coca-Cola system does not buy sugar directly from any suppliers in Cambodia, 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. We have also submitted a proposal to Oxfam that outlines key areas of concrete action, including potential impact assessments and providing a higher level of supply chain disclosure, and other forward-leaning actions that demonstrates our commitment to being a part of the solution”.


PepsiCo said in a statement that it also paid attention to social responsibility issues in its contracting. The company added that it had “reached out to the suppliers; they have assured us they are in compliance with applicable laws. We continue to engage with our partners to further understand how they are addressing the issues raised by Oxfam.”


The full report – part of the charity’s wider ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign which aims to highlight the social and economic impact of business practices of major food and drinks brands – is out now and is available from the Oxfam website.