Sugar producer Illovo – a subsidiary of Associated British Foods – has defended itself against the criticism released in an Oxfam report yesterday in a statement detailing its initiatives within the areas of health, education and community infrastructure.
The company, which operates across six African countries, said it was “hugely sensitive to issues of land ownership […] Illovo has been scrupulous in its approach to land ownership.”
The ABF company said: “Illovo is a magnificent example of a company that works to the highest ethical standards to benefit the communities in which it operates.”
The Oxfam report entitled “Nothing sweet about it: How sugar fuels land grabs” is a critical look at what it calls the “bitter secret” of the sugar supply chains of some of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies.
The report focused on ABF, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever as ten of the most powerful food and beverage players globally, and claimed that none of these companies has adequately addressed the major risks of land grabs or conflicts over land that could be taking place within their supply chains.
In the report Oxfam said: “Poor communities across the globe are in dispute or even being kicked off their land, without consultation or compensation, to make way for huge sugar plantations. When they lose their land they often lose their homes and their main source of food and income.”
Oxfam said that of the three agricultural commodities which pose the greatest risk of being linked to land grabs - sugar, soy, and palm oil – sugar production posed the biggest problem.
ABF’s Illova responded to this saying: “Oxfam criticises ABF and Illovo for refusing to sign a pledge on land ownership. Pledges are cheap and plentiful. The history of Africa is full of them. The true test of any organisation is what it actually does. ABF and Illovo prefer to act on their beliefs and standards rather than pontificate about them.”
“In South Africa, Illovo has distributed more company-owned cane land to black farmers than any other sugar company in that country and did so voluntarily, earlier than required by legislation,” said the statement.
“It has a fine record of working with those farmers to ensure the continued commercial viability of that land and it runs important and innovative programs with government and with farmers in KwaZulu-Natal to ensure the long-term sustainability of farms now under black ownership,” it said.
"The company does not have a zero-tolerance policy"
After receiving the ABF response, Oxfam's campaigns director Sally Copley said: "ABF needs to show it has a system in place that ensures people aren't being left homeless and landless for the sake of meeting our appetite for sugar. As the second largest sugar producer in the world - owner of the largest company in Africa - and one of the giants in the food and drink industry, it needs to have policies that protect communities from land grabs.
"If ABF can show it prevents land grabs then surely it would be more comfortable in being more open about its business operations...The company does not have a zero-tolerance policy against land grabs.Until this is the case it's failing to ensure that what people are consuming is not as a result of people being forced off their land," Copley said.
Click here to read more about PepsiCo and Coca-Cola's responses to Oxfam's report.