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Exposed: How Coke, Pepsi Fuel Bitter Injustices in Global Sugar Industry

Oxfam reveals corporate grabs of poor and indigenous communities' lands, complicity of food and drink giants

Sarah Lazare

Poor and indigenous communities across the world are being robbed of their land by corporations that provide sugar to food and drink giants, a practice that is fueled by the complicity and inaction of transnational corporations like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, Oxfam reveals in a report released Wednesday.

The booming global sugar trade, which produced 176 million tons of sugar last year and is worth $47 billion, is shifting towards large-scale agribusiness at the expense of small farming, the report, titled Sugar Rush: Land rights and the supply chains of the biggest food and beverage companies, finds.

The 31 million hectares used to grow sugar across the globe, most of it in the developing world, is rampant with land grabs, in which local residents are forcibly evicted, often without compensation, to make way for larger corporate farms, the report finds. In many cases, sugar corporations become involved in armed land conflicts, including using their own private militias to force farmers off their land.

"At least 4m hectares of land have been acquired for sugar production in 100 large-scale land deals since 2000, although given the lack of transparency around such deals, the area is likely to be much greater, the report reads. "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."

Oxfam highlights chilling examples of what this looks like in practice in a report summary:

  • 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 demanding that Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and Associated British Foods immediately halt their practice of tolerating these injustices by implementing a zero-tolerance policy towards land grabs in its supply chain.

“We need to be sure that what we eat and drink does not make the poorest and most vulnerable across the world homeless or landless," declared Sally Copley, Oxfam’s campaigns director, The Independent reports. "PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and ABF are the three big giants in the sugar industry and must lead the way in making sure we are not left with a sour taste in our mouths.”

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