Big food and drink companies must act to stop conflicts over land as global sugar production continues to soar

The biggest names in the food and drink industry are not doing enough to stop land grabs and conflicts in their supply chains, says international agency Oxfam in a new report today.

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 $47 billion. The world produced 176 million tons of sugar last year. The food and drinks industry accounts for more half of it. Sugar production is predicted to increase by 25 per cent by 2020.

While our increasing appetite for sugar has health advocates ringing alarm bells, Oxfam says it has largely gone unnoticed that the sugar trade is also helping to fuel the problem of land grabs and disputes. 31 million hectares, an area the size of Italy, is already being used to grow our sugar, much of it in the developing world.

Land grabs and sugar

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 ten biggest food and drink companies lack strong enough policies to stop land grabs and disputes from featuring in their supply chains.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam said: “Sugar is already linked to serious health issues. It also lies at the heart of the bitter problem of land grabs. 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.

Plantations destroy forests and farms

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 of the families are now living in slums of the nearest town 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.

  • 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.

Oxfam is calling on Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Associated British Foods to commit to zero tolerance of land grabs throughout their supply chains. 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.

  • Coca-Cola is the world’s largest buyer of sugar and controls 25 per cent of the global soft drink market. Its portfolio of 500 brands includes Diet Coke, Fanta, and Del Valle juices.
  • PepsiCo controls 18 per cent of the soft drink market and has a portfolio of 21 brands including Pepsi, Tropicana, Doritos, Lipton Teas and Walkers
  • Associated British Foods is the world’s second largest sugar producer and the owner of popular brands such as Silver Spoon Sugar, Ovaltine, Kingsmill and Patak’s.

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Media brief: Nothing sweet about it: How sugar fuels land grabs

Detailed report: Sugar rush: Land rights and the supply chains of the biggest food and beverage companies

Notes to editors

A copy of the media brief and pictures, testimonies, VNR and 60 second video shorts on the land grabs cases in Brazil and Cambodia are available.

  • Oxfam has also today published a research paper called “Sugar Rush” that analyzes in more detail the issue of land in sugar supply chains.
  • Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign aims to provide people who buy and enjoy these products with the information they need to hold the Big 10 food and drink brands – Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – to account for what happens in their supply chains. The Behind the Brands Company Scorecard includes scores for company policies on land.
  • Consumers can support the campaign by emailing ABF, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola at www.behindthebrands.org
  • Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations networked together in more than 90 countries, as part of a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty.

Contact information

Contact Anna Ratcliff for further materials, information or to arrange interviews:

  • +44 7796 993 288
  • anna.ratcliff@oxfaminternational.org