Oxfam calls on big food, drink firms to stop conflicts over land

posted in: Africa

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam


Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – The biggest names in the food and drink industry are not doing enough to stop land grabs and conflicts in their supply chains, said international agency Oxfam in a new report published Wednesday.

The report, “Sugar Rush: Land rights and the supply chains of the biggest food and beverage companies”, highlights examples of land grabs and disputes linked to companies that supply sugar for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products, and allegations of disputes inside Associated British Foods’ supply chain.

The global sugar trade is worth about US$ 47 billion; the world produced 176 million tons of sugar last year; the food and drinks industry accounts for more half of it; and sugar production is predicted to increase by 25 percent by 2020.

While the increasing appetite for sugar has health advocates ringing alarm bells, Oxfam said it has largely gone unnoticed that the sugar trade is also helping to fuel the problem of land grabs and disputes.

At least 31 million hectares, an area the size of Italy, is already being used to grow sugar, much of it in the developing world.

Land grabs are big deals where local communities that rely on the land are evicted without consent or compensation.

Oxfam’s ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign says that the world’s 10 biggest food and drink companies lack strong enough policies to stop land grabs and disputes from featuring in their supply chains.

“Sugar is already linked to serious health issues. It also lies at the heart of the bitter problem of land grabs”, said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam. “Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Associated British Foods are the world’s biggest producers and buyers of sugar but they are doing little to ensure the sugar in their products is not grown on land grabbed from poor communities.”

“The people who love their products expect better. We are calling on them to join us in demanding that Coke, Pepsi and Associated British Foods act now to stamp out land grabs. These three companies have a huge amount of power and influence. If they act they could transform the industry,” she said.

Oxfam claimed it had evidence of land grabs and conflicts in Cambodia and Brazil.

In addition, the agency said that Associated British Foods (ABF), through their ownership of Illovo, Africa’s biggest producer of sugar cane, has also been linked in media reports to land conflicts in Mali, Zambia and Malawi.

Calling on Coca Cola, PepsiCo and ABF to commit to zero tolerance of land grabs throughout their supply chains, Oxfam added that 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.

In another paper on the sugar rush, also released Wednesday, Oxfam said at least 4 million hectares of land have been acquired for sugar production in 100 large-scale land deals since 2000.

This paper sets out how one crop – sugar – has been driving large-scale land acquisitions and land conflicts at the expense of small-scale food producers and their families.

In some cases, these acquisitions have been linked to human rights violations, loss of livelihoods, and hunger for small-scale food producers and their families.

Major food and beverage companies rarely own land, but they depend on it for the crops they buy, including sugar.

“These companies must urgently recognize this problem, and take steps to ensure that land rights violations and conflicts are not part of their supply chains,” the paper said.