NEWS: Coke’s Zero Tolerance for Land Grabs Proves Difficult to Fulfill

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Bottles of Coca-Cola are seen at the Safeway store in Wheaton Maryland

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Coca-Cola Co has made a good start in axing land grabs from its supply chain, but it must work harder in proving that its bottlers and sugar suppliers do not violate land rights, development experts told the company.

Coke declared two years ago that land grabbing is unacceptable, and as a major buyer of sugar pledged to help protect land rights of local communities, including evaluating its top 16 cane sugar-sourcing countries by 2020.

In the first of those reports released earlier this month, Coke said it found no evidence of land rights abuses by five sugar mills it buys from in Guatemala.

However, those findings raised questions at a World Bank conference on Land and Poverty, given Guatemala’s long and often violent history of land conflict and human rights abuses.

Karol Boudreaux, land expert at the Cloudburst Group consulting firm, said the report was too superficial, relying on the word of sugar mill operators without digging deeply into their land acquisition methods.

“How did the owners acquire title documents? Were communities consulted? Were they compensated for their land? Were women’s title considered?” Boudreaux said at the World Bank session on Tuesday.

“I cannot tell from the evidence that Coke presents,” she told Ed Potter, the company’s director of global workplace rights, who agreed to take her advice and improve the company’s review processes.

In Cambodia, Coke faced criticism for benefiting from massive land thefts orchestrated by government officials for agribusinesses, including one of Coke’s major sugar suppliers, said David Pred of the human rights group Inclusive Development International.

Thousands of Cambodians were violently displaced by police and military, who stole their crops, burned their homes and bulldozed their land for sugar companies, said Pred, managing director of the California-based organization.

“What we are talking about here is grand theft,” he said, adding that Coke failed to conduct serious due diligence on its supplier.
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