LONDON, United Kingdom – Oxfam identifies 10 major multinational food corporations, the Big Ten, who are not doing enough to ensure that land rights and human rights are respected in places where their ingredients grow. Families are displaced and livelihoods are uprooted in the quest for sugar, soy and palm oil. We are not talking about the how the United Fruit Company behaved in its Banana Republics at the turn of the 19th century, or about the US Indian removal Act of 1830 that was responsible for the Trail of Tears. Rather, we are talking about land grabbing happening right now in countries such as South Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, and Mozambique.
Evidence of land grabs has been found specifically in Coca-Cola’s, Pepsico’s and Associated British Food’s supply chains, though Oxfam America is focusing on the Big Ten to improve land rights throughout our food system. These Big Ten include Nestle, Unilever, Coca Cola, Danone, Mars, Pepsico, Mondelez, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Associated British Foods.
Of late, cases are revealing that some of these land acquisitions were done at the expense of the people living on the land. For example, in 2006 in the Sre Ambel district of Cambodia, 500 families from three villages lost their land to a sugar plantation. The families claim that they were not consulted about the land deal between the Government of Cambodia and the Thai company, Khon Kaen Sugar Co Ltd. Similar land conflicts have occurred in Brazil, the Philippines, Guatemala and Cambodia. Owing to the lack of transparency around land deals, more cases of land grabs go unnoticed.
While a number of external and internal efforts are being pursued to improve corruption and governance within these countries – Oxfam strategizes that the most effective way to quell the incidences of land grabbing is to make the Big Ten food companies purposefully aware of their supply chain, prevent future land rights violations, and seriously adhere to industry standards in the supply chain. They must adopt a zero tolerance towards land grabbing.
Oxfam urges that the Big Ten companies need to be reminded that two-thirds of a company’s market value is attributed to its public reputation. Their consumers will not tolerate it when they learn of wrongdoing along a company’s supply chain. Take for example the unfortunate tragedy of the recent collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh due to unsafe building structures. Rana Plaza was home to a large number of textile mills that supplied apparel for 23 brands including Benetton, Walmart and Primark. The death of over 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers in the collapse was the catalyst in bringing more than 50 brands to sign up to a legally binding building safety agreement backed by international trade union IndustriALL and the Bangladeshi government.
Sources: OxFam, Transparency International, The Guardian, Oxfam-Behind the Brands
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