Politics of Poverty

Another food company against land grabs: Why Nestlé’s policy matters

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Children play soccer on the land of the Taquara, a group of indigenous people in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Photo: Tatiana Cardeal/Oxfam

An inside look at the food giant’s bold new commitments on land rights.

Monique van Zijl is the campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign.

When one of the world’s largest food company commits to protecting land rights of small-scale farmers, it’s a big deal. Earlier this month, Nestlé committed to do just that.

In the past year, Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign has harnessed the voices of consumers against land grabs, persuading companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to make landmark commitments. But Nestlé’s recent commitments are a bold move for a company to speak up openly about the risks of land acquisition in its supply chains, and more so to promise to do something about the impact of its supply chains on local communities’ livelihoods, human rights, and local food security.

By adopting and implementing policies that hold suppliers to account for zero tolerance for land grabs, the food giant will be able to assure consumers that its suppliers are not driving communities, farmers, or indigenous peoples off their land. Moreover, through using its convening power to collaboratively tackle land rights with other stakeholders, it is stepping up as a true land rights champion.

What specifically has Nestlé committed to?

Nestlé has committed to policy provisions to hold its suppliers accountable for community land rights and to ensure zero tolerance for land grabs. In plain and simple language, the company has committed to ensure that its ingredients don’t come from land that has been illegally, underhandedly, or unfairly taken from poor people.

Not only has Nestlé made a strong commitment for land rights in its own supply chain, it has also committed to advocate for others to do so too. Nestlé has agreed to work with governments, communities, farmers, and other relevant stakeholders to:

  • Identify opportunities for landless men and women to gain access to land.
  • Strengthen the recognition of land rights for individuals, communities, and indigenous peoples whose land rights are not recognized and respected.
  • Promote security of tenure for women whose rights under the law or in practice may not be equal to those of men in their household.

By agreeing to promote the specific land rights of women and of landless people, Nestlé is going a lot further than simply stopping land rights violations. It is also actively investing in promoting and furthering the land rights of the most vulnerable. In addition, through agreeing to act and speak out with others, Nestlé is opening political space for governments to act too. This kind of daring commitment positions the company as an industry frontrunner.

Do any concerns about Nestlé remain?

Nestlé’s new land policy references the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which importantly provides communities with the right to decide for themselves about the future of their land. However, it remains unclear from Nestlé’s Responsible Sourcing Guidelines if FPIC is equally applicable to all commodities and communities, and how far the company will go in applying the principle consistently across all of its guidelines and commitments. In short I am left feeling slightly confused about both the depth and breadth of Nestlé’s FPIC commitment.

Will Nestlé’s commitment translate from policy to practice?

Oxfam will closely monitor Nestlé to ensure that it follows through on its promises. In addition, Nestlé has also committed to reporting publicly, in an open and transparent manner, its progress on:

  • Actions to improve small-holder producer land rights in their supply chain.
  • Proactive identification of land rights risks in their supply chain and responses to such risks.
  • Contributions to advocacy for more effective land tenure.

Through this kind of public reporting, Oxfam, our supporters, governments, communities, farmers, and other relevant stakeholders will all be able to track Nestlé’s commitment over time. In addition, Nestlé will integrate land rights into its annual company-wide human rights risk assessment process and its country-based human rights impact assessments. This means that the company can proactively and systematically root out land rights risks.

So what else has Nestlé promised to do?

In addition to agreeing to zero tolerance for land grabs, Nestlé also:

  • Nestlé will encourage the continued development of public information and early warning systems, as well as operating an external mechanism to receive company grievances and responding to cases, to ensure timely and widely-accessible information on areas of high risk, rights infringements, and other non-compliance issues.

Nestlé’s commitment to an accessible and independent company grievance mechanism for responding to cases is particularly impressive, because it means that if a community has a grievance, the company is providing them with an opportunity to be heard and Nestlé has the chance to intervene.

Nestlé has immense power and its strong commitment to influence its suppliers, the wider industry, and governments. Coupled with a clear set of steps to improve its own supply chain, Nestlé help push stronger standards across the industry. I applaud Nestlé’s leadership and look forward to engaging with the company over the coming years on the actions it will take to follow through on its promises.

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