Last Friday, Coca-Cola took a long awaited and important step in pledging a zero tolerance approach to land grabbing throughout its global supply chains. This is big news for communities around the world affected by land grabbing, forced evictions and other serious human rights violations prevalent in the sugar industry.
It is a significant development for communities in Sre Ambel District, Koh Kong Province in Cambodia, who, with the support of the Community Legal Education Centre of Cambodia, ERI, and other groups, have been fighting for years to seek remedies for stolen land and livelihoods lost to make way for large scale sugar plantations and processing factories. Read more about the story of the Koh Kong communities and their fights for remedies.
Coca-Cola’s statement comes in response to a global campaign by Oxfam, Behind the Brands. The campaign targets the world’s largest food and beverage companies, recognizing the enormous influence these companies have over the way food is produced and resources used in global supply chains.
In a statement affirming a zero tolerance approach to land grabbing, Coca-Cola has disclosed the top three countries and the top three global suppliers they source sugar from – including Mitr Pohl in Thailand, which is the largest sugar producer in Asia. The company also acknowledge a responsibility to use their influence as a major supplier to help protect local land rights, starting with a process of ‘know and show’ to uncover the risks and impacts to communities in their supply chain operations.
Mitr Pohl Sugar Group has extensive operations and investments in Cambodia. They have been implicated in similar practices of land grabbing and forced evictions in Oddar Meanchey Province to those experienced by the communities we work with in Koh Kong Province, where another Thai company, Khonkaen Sugar Limited (KSL) owns the sugar plantation and operations. The sugar plantations in both Koh Kong and Oddar Meanchey serve as case studies in Bittersweet Harvest, a recent report by Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development International on land rights and other abuses in the sugar industry in Cambodia.
Coca-Cola’s commitment to use its influence in addressing land rights abuses in its supply chains, including those involving Mitr Pohl, has the potential to create broader changes in the way business is done in the sugar industry in Cambodia. It offers a glimmer of hope to communities in Koh Kong and elsewhere that progress is possible in their long fight for remedies. There are signs that Coke’s statement may have spurred movement by KSL: KSL has recently offered to enter talks with the Koh Kong communities to try to resolve the issues. However, it’s still too soon to tell whether this offer to negotiate is likely to lead to a full and open discussion of the abuses and appropriate remedies and to result in a satisfactory outcome for the communities
Pressure must be kept on Coke and supplier companies investing in sugar concessions in Cambodia to ensure that their stated commitments represent more than mere words and translate into concrete actions and real changes for communities and people on the ground.