Politics of Poverty

Land Rights Behind the Brands: No one has their lights on!

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Food companies are driving in the dark when it comes to land grabs in their supply chains.

Monique van Zijl is the Policy Advisor for Economic Justice at Oxfam Novib.


Huh? It can’t be! I’m astounded. According to the Oxfam Behind the Brands Scorecard, none, not one of the Big 10 food companies has adequate policies to prevent or protect local communities from land grabs along their supply chains. As a land policy advisor for Oxfam, the scorecard gave me a chance to see just what ten of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies are doing to prevent land grabs along their supply chains.

All ten companies are driving in the dark.

Once upon a time, the food and beverage industry gained unrestricted access to cheap land, i.e. other people’s land, which allowed them to make huge profits at the expense of others. But that was before the problem of land grabs was all over the news. That was before companies and consumers knew better.

In the past decade, an area of land eight times the size of the United Kingdom has been sold off globally. This is enough land to feed nearly a billion people—the same number of people who go to bed hungry each night. The vast majority of large-scale land deals are taking place in countries with ‘alarming’ or ‘serious’ levels of hunger, and yet a majority of foreign land investors plan to export what they produce. Land sold as ‘unused’ or ‘undeveloped’ is often that of poor families. These families are forcibly kicked off the land, often violently, and if there are promises of jobs or compensation, these are often broken.

Companies can no longer claim to be unaware of these risks.  Yet no single company assessed in the scorecard has sufficient policies to prevent land grabs.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands Scorecard measures whether companies have sufficient policies in place to ensure that their supply chains are free from ‘land grabs’. This includes policies that promote free, prior and informed consent throughout the entire supply chain and zero tolerance for those suppliers who obtain land through land rights violations. We are asking companies to turn their lights on: to adopt preventative policies; to seek the consent of local communities; to undertake transparent and comprehensive social and environmental impact assessments; and, if things do go wrong, to provide appropriate grievance mechanisms. In short, we are asking companies to be responsible investors, producers and, buyers.

Driving in the dark with no lights is reckless. Food companies, it’s time to switch the lights on.


This post by Monique van Zijl is part of a Behind the Brands blog series on Politics of Poverty that examines the seven issues relating to poverty and big food companies’ supply chains. Read more on womenfarmerstransparencywaterworkers, and climate change!

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