Coca-Cola recently committed to Oxfam’s zero tolerance policy on land grabbing and to ‘recognize and safeguard the rights of communities and traditional peoples to maintain access to land and natural resources’
Coke made its move in response to Oxfam's much publicized October report 'Nothing Sweet About It', which connected alleged cases of land grabbing to leading soft drinks sugar suppliers including Tate & Lyle Sugars, Trapiche and Bunge.
“At The Coca-Cola Company, we believe land grabbing is unacceptable, and we are implementing a zero tolerance approach to land grabbing throughout our supply chain and conducting independent social, environmental and human rights assessments in critical sourcing countries for our system,” a company spokesperson said today.
“Details of our action plans can be found on our Company website. We will continue to engage with Oxfam and others to advance this important dialogue and bring about meaningful change.”
Coke must back words with actions - Survival director
But Stephen Corry, director of Survival (a global charity supporting tribal peoples) said such a promise was worthless if concrete action did not follow.
“If Coca-Cola’s commitment is to be taken seriously, the company has to stop buying sugar from Bunge. As long as the deal continues, Coke’s pledge against land grabbing is meaningless,” he said.
A spokesman for the tribe told Survival International: “Coca-Cola must stop buying sugar from Bunge. While these companies profit, we are forced to endure hunger, misery and killings.”
The 370-strong Guarani community of Jata Yvary in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul has lost most of its ancestral land to plantations that sell sugar cane to Bunge.
They say they are forced to live on a small patch of land completely surrounded by the crop.
Arlindo, leader of the Jata Yvary tribe, said in an video appeal released by Survival: “This is our forest. Our forest is our future. But the ranchers they don’t want to hear about that. They just want to fill this whole place with sugar cane.
“They’ve destroyed almost all our forest. They’ve destroyed our medicinal plants. And they’ve destroyed almost all our fruits and resources,” Arlindo said.
“They spray pesticides from planes. The children get headaches and start vomiting. All these illnesses are caused by the chemicals," he added.
Federal land designation crucial - Bunge
In a statement sent to BeverageDaily.com, a Bunge spokesperson said the company runs its sugar and bioenergy business according to Brazilian law and its own global labor, environmental and sustainability policies.
Addressing the Oxfam report, they said Bunge’s position is “rooted in the concepts of fair legal process and compliance”, with land in question still under adjudication by the Brazilian government.
“As of now, the Federal Government has not made a decision designating the lands as indigenous. This is a crucial step in any official process,” the spokesperson said.
“As such, the company continues to honor legal contracts with growers, signed prior to our acquisition of the mill, to source sugarcane from these lands.”
But Bunge will not renew these contracts when they all expire in 2014, the spokesperson added.
“If the lands are designated as indigenous before that time, we will stop purchases immediately,” they added.