Nothing sweet about it: the sugar industry and land-grabbing

by Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EUs office

Today, as part of Oxfam’s on-going Behind the Brands campaign, we are stressing the involvement a few of the leading sugar-based companies have in land-grabbing. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Associated British Foods have all been linked to this practice in their supply chain and, given their leading role in world sugar production, we are striving to push these companies in the right direction.

The process of land-grabbing involves governments signing away vast amounts of lands to multi-national companies, often ignoring legitimate property rights small-scale and subsistence farmers have on the land.
The global appetite for sugar is rapidly growing. Estimated to be worth around $47 billion, the industry produces 176 million tonnes of sugar each year and, with growing demand in the developing world, predictions suggest an astonishing increase in production of 25 per cent by 2020.

The manufacture of processed food goods is one of the primary driving forces behind this sharp growth, but whilst attention is often drawn to the negative health effects of our increased addiction to soft drinks, confectionery and ice creams, land-grabbing represents another side to the industry which is often ignored.
Currently around 31 million hectares of land, an area the size of Italy, is being used to grow sugar, much of it in the developing world. Oxfam’s new report Sugar Rush highlights the impacts the industry is having on local communities.

Having watched developments closely around the world, in particular Cambodia and Brazil, Oxfam has witnessed many of these immoral land-grabs first hand. In Sre Ambel District in Cambodia, we heard of 200 families who were evicted in 2006 to make way for a sugar plantation, whilst in Brazil an entire fishing community in Pernambuco State was evicted in 1998 in order to make room for a sugar mill. These stories are a sad reality and only by informing unaware consumers can we truly put pressure companies involved in the practice.

The three aforementioned brands 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 Coca-Cola, PepsiCo 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.

Behind the Brands aims to bring to light the practices of many of the world’s leading products, ranging from Ben & Jerrys ice cream to Uncle Ben’s rice, focusing on the impact they contribute to land and water usage, women and workers’ rights, climate and transparency and water.

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Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels works to ensure EU policies and practices affecting poor countries have a greater impact on those most in need. Our work spans numerous policy areas including development aid, food security, climate change, and the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of conflicts and natural disasters. more.



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