The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Coke, Pepsi and ABF: What they say about the sugar rush

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Beverage companies’ responses to Behind the Brands differ from what Oxfam knows.

Judy Beals is Oxfam’s Behind the Brands Campaign Manager.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Associated British Foods have reacted to Oxfam’s newly published report, Sugar Rush: Land rights and the supply chains of the biggest food and beverage companies, which exposes land grabs and conflicts in their sugar supply chains, and the companies’ need to strengthen their policies as a result.

Coca-Cola says that it has policies in place to deal with the issues Oxfam has raised. Coca-Cola also says that it is working with Oxfam to address them. Unfortunately we have to disagree on both points. Coca-Cola scored just 2 out of 10 in Oxfam’s recent assessment of its land policies. It’s clear Coca-Cola needs to do much more to get its house in order. While we’d be delighted to work with Coca-Cola to help them deliver on this, we have yet to get to this point with any of the companies. Our door is always open.

sugar-stat (3)PepsiCo says it takes any problems raised about its suppliers seriously and PepsiCo reassures Oxfam that it is in compliance with the applicable laws. It’s good to hear that the company has raised this issue with its suppliers, but PepsiCo appears to have missed the point. This issue isn’t just about whether the relevant laws are being respected, although in some of the cases we have highlighted, they are clearly not. This is about the companies ensuring that they and their suppliers do the right thing on land—regardless. A company cannot hide behind a poor national law. In keeping with the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, PepsiCo must maintain a high common standard everywhere – most especially in countries where governance is weak. PepsiCo also needs to act to ensure it has stronger policies in place to prevent land conflicts in its supply chain.  Its current policies on land are simply not up to the job – PepsiCo also scored just 2 out of 10 in our Behind the Brands scorecard.

Associated British Foods (ABF) pushed back. ABF says it has always been scrupulous in its approach to land ownership; that Oxfam’s call for them to commit to zero tolerance of land grabs would be a “cheap” gesture and that the true test of an organisation is what it does and not simply what it says. We agree! Actions do speak louder than words. That’s exactly why we’re asking ABF to strengthen its systems. We are asking for ABF to ensure that its operations and those of its suppliers don’t lead to land grabs and conflicts. On the evidence we’ve seen, the companies’ policies remain weak. ABF company scored just 1 out of 10 in our assessment of its policies on land. Encouragingly, ABF has given a nod to the importance of partnering and negotiating with local communities in parts of its sugar business. But consumers need to know that ABF, across its brands and businesses, is committed to zero tolerance on land grabs. This requires much more openness from ABF.

The bottom line is that none of these companies are doing enough to tackle land grabs.  Oxfam and the millions of people who enjoy their products expect better. We look forward to hearing more from them in the coming weeks.

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Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and ABF have the power to change the dialogue in the food and beverage sector because they have the brands that consumers love. They can lead the way towards protecting farmers’ and rural communities’ access to land. Tell Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and ABF to help stop land grabs and by signing our petition.

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