Oxfam has placed Associated British Foods (ABF) last in its Behind the Brands campaign table.
The campaign, which initially launched in February,analysed the 10 largest food companies, including ABF, for their policies on women, farmers, workers, climate, transparency and water.
In October Oxfam also looked at land and sugar.
In a petition addressed to Coca-Cola, Pepsi and ABF, the charity said: “You buy and produce huge amounts of sugar around the world, and hold significant influence over the sugar industry. But your policies are so slack, you don’t even seem to know if the sugar you use is grown on grabbed land.”
The charity’s definition of land-grabbing refers to the loss of land by individuals without consultation or compensation.
A campaign petition urges the brands to know how the sugar they produce or source impacts communities’ access to land, to show where ingredients are sourced from, and to commit to zero-tolerance for land grabs.
At the time of publication, 174,696 people had signed the petition which is aiming for 180,000 signatures.
A scorecard was published by the charity, rating the Big Ten, placing ABF in 10th with a 19% rating in January, June and September. The full scorecard can be viewed here.
A statement by Oxfam claimed that through ABF’s ownership of Illovo, Africa’s biggest producer of sugar cane, the company has also been linked in media reports to land conflicts in Mali, Zambia and Malawi.
In a response to the scorecard, ABF said: “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. Illovo is a magnificent example of a company that works to the highest ethical standards to benefit the communities in which it operates.”
Commenting on ABF’s statement, Sally Copley, campaigns director for Oxfam, 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. Perhaps its reservation lies in it knowing it has no system in place across the board to protect people’s land rights.
“The company does not have a zero-tolerance policy against land grabs. Until this is the case, it is failing to ensure that the sugar people are eating and drinking is not as a result of people being forced off their land.”