Soaring demand for sugar fuels land grabs

Campaigns and Advocacy, GROW, Media Releases, News article written on the 02 Oct 2013

The biggest names in the food and drink industry, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, are not doing enough to stop land grabs and conflicts throughout their networks of suppliers, says international agency Oxfam in a new report.

The report, ‘Nothing sweet about it: How sugar fuels land grabs’, highlights examples of land grabs and disputes linked to companies that supply sugar for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products, and allegations of land disputes among suppliers of Associated British Foods – whose brands include Twinings and Ovaltine.   

Oxfam Australia’s acting public policy manager Kelly Dent said while our increasing appetite for sugar had health advocates ringing alarm bells, it had largely gone unnoticed that the $50 billion a year global sugar trade was also helping to fuel the problem of land grabs and disputes.

She said 31 million hectares, an area bigger than Victoria, was already being used to grow the world’s sugar, much of it in poor countries. Last year, the world produced 176 million tonnes of sugar, with the food and drinks industry accounting for more half of that.  Sugar production was expected to rise by 25 per cent by 2020.

“Sugar is not only bad for our health, it’s bad for the communities around the world that have been forcibly removed from their land without their consent or compensation,” Ms Dent said.

“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.”

Oxfam has evidence of land grabs and conflicts in Cambodia and Brazil, including: 

  • A fishing community in Pernambuco State, Brazil, fighting for access to their land and fishing grounds, after having been violently evicted in 1998 by a sugar mill. The mill provides sugar to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Many families are now living in slums and struggling to make a living.
  • In Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil, Indigenous communities are fighting the occupation of their land by sugar plantations supplying a mill owned by Bunge. Coca-Cola buys sugar from Bunge in Brazil but says it does not buy from this particular mill. The plantations have destroyed the forests that the people had relied upon for food.
  • In Sre Ambel District in Cambodia, 200 families are fighting for land from which they were evicted in 2006 to make way for a sugar plantation. The plantation has supplied Tate & Lyle Sugars, which sells sugar to franchises that manufacture and bottle products for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The families’ lives have been devastated as they no longer have anywhere to grow crops or graze their livestock.

Ms Dent said Oxfam was calling on Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Associated British Foods to commit to zero tolerance of land grabs throughout their networks of suppliers. 

She 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.

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