About a year ago we were reminded in a blog by David Pred of IDI, “Before you reach for that Tate and Lyle sugar packet to sweeten your coffee, you might want to think twice. While most Tate and Lyle sugar packets carry the Fair Trade label, Cambodian farmers who were displaced and dispossessed by their suppliers say that if you are buying this product, you are buying their blood.” Now, you can officially say the same about Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
The blood sugar campaign continued after hundreds of farmers in Cambodia were forcibly evicted to make way for agro-industrial sugar cane plantations, run by key Pepsi and Coke suppliers. Thanks to the ongoing activism of these farmers, supported by Oxfam and other civil society organizations, these corporations were finally called out for the atrocities occurring within their supply chain.
In Cambodia, sugar provides a major industry with exports at around $13 million last year. The product has the potential to bring local people out of poverty, but the opposite has proven true in practice. This is especially true in Cambodia where investments are carried out in a top-down, non-transparent, and even violent manner.
The companies must begin to follow their obligations under international law: exercise due diligence, obtain free, prior, and informed consent, and conduct social, human rights, environmental, and health impact assessments before carrying out investments, so that local people and not just industry can benefit. It’s not a lot to ask when considering the profit companies are making from these land grabs.
Coca-Cola recently pledged a zero-tolerance policy of land-grabbing by suppliers and bottlers. Pepsi should use this opportunity to foster corporate competition of a different kind and take an even bigger step in the direction of corporate social responsibility: for communities that agree to sugar plantations, what if the company directly engaged with community members from the beginning, ensured communities had their own independent attorney during the investment process, and left them plenty of land to farm as well as farming technology and training programmes? If small-holding farmers agree to let investors use their land–which is the basis of their whole livelihood–again, this is not much to ask of a huge corporation.
Pepsi and Coca-Cola need to act now, accept responsibility for their suppliers’ unacceptable conduct toward our world’s smallholding farmers, and come up with new, innovative policies that will benefit all involved parties in the future.