We are constantly warned about the dangers of sugar to our health.  Articles and television programmes everywhere highlight how much hidden sugar is contained in the food we eat, and demonstrate the growing “addiction” we are developing for this product.  Yes, it effects us personally, but out growing reliance upon sugar is having far graver consequences on the lives of indigenous communities worldwide.

A major new report by Oxfam has revealed that landmass equivalent to the size of Italy has been taken from indigenous communities around the globe by suppliers to some of the biggest names in the food and drinks industry, with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo particularly culpable.  The figures cited in this report indicate that there have been around 800 large-scale land deals by foreign investors since 2000, and these have resulted in 33,000,000 hectares of land coming into corporate ownership.

Brazil and Cambodia, along with other developing nations have been adversely affected, with large swathes of land being forcibly taken in what are called “land-grabs”.  This meaning that local communities are evicted from land they rely on to live, often violently, without consent or compensation in order to make way for sugar plantations.  Land grabs occur for the purpose of other industries, but the role of sugar in this, as a result of the developed world’s increasingly “sweet tooth”, has gone largely unnoticed until now.

Oxfam’s report contains case studies from various communities whose rights have been violated and their habitats destroyed, thus putting both their lives and communities at risk.  These include Mato Grosso do Sul and the fishing community of the Sirihaem estuary, both in Brazil, Sre Ambel in Cambodia, as well as links to land conflicts in Mali, Zambia and Malawi.

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, as well as companies such as Tate & Lyle, dispute (though do not outright deny) the accusations of this report, claiming that they do not directly buy sugar from such plantations.  As with mobile phone companies who use blood minerals, blame is deferred to those lower down the supply chain.  It should be upheld, though, that companies have an undeniable responsibility to know and regulate their supply chains and this cannot be accepted as an excuse.

Responsibility also lies with us, the consumer.  We have the resources and choice readily at our disposal to begin making informed decisions about the products we buy.  Maybe we should begin taking responsibility for those who are suffering worldwide as a result of the choices we make.

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