The Guarani tribes of Jata Yvary in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state have accused the Coca-Cola Company of buying sugar from a company that has grabbed the tribe's ancestral land.
Coca-Cola sources sugar from Bunge, which buys sugar cane from five farms located on the tribal lands.
"Coca-Cola must stop buying sugar from Bunge. While these companies profit, we are forced to endure hunger, misery, and killings," a Guarani spokesperson told UK-based tribal rights group, Survival International.
A recent Oxfam report states that at least four million hectares of land have been acquired for sugar production in 100 large-scale land deals since 2000 in Brazil.
"These acquisitions have been linked to human rights violations, loss of livelihoods, and hunger for small-scale food producers and their families," Oxfam said in the report, adding that major food and beverage companies should "take steps to ensure that land rights violations and conflicts are not part of their supply chains".
Plight of the Guarani
Guarani Indians are said to be one of the first peoples contacted by Europeans in South America about 500 years ago. Because of sugar cane plantations on their land, the Guarani people are forced to reside in a small area surrounded by the crop.
Their forest land, which provided them food and shelter, is almost destroyed. The indigenous people suffer health issues from the pesticides sprayed on the plantation.
The Guaranis' lands are being used for setting up sugar cane plantations and cattle ranches since the 1980s to meet the needs of Brazil's biofuel market.
"The ranchers have destroyed almost all our forest, our medicinal plants, our fruits and resources. They spray pesticides from planes. The children get headaches and start vomiting," Guarani leader, Arlindo, said.
Moreover, the loss of ancestral land has led to increased suicides among the Guarani Indians. A recent figure by the tribal rights group revealed that the Guarani people, mainly the youth, have a suicide rate that is at least 34 times the national average of Brazil.
Coca-Cola and Bunge Continue Business
Notwithstanding the sufferings of the Guarani people, Bunge continues to buy sugar from the five farms on the Jata Yvary land, which is in the process of demarcation as indigenous land. But the company insists that it will stop its operations there only when the land is fully demarcated and signed by the president.
Coca-Cola is the world's largest buyer of sugar and controls 25% of the global soft drinks market. The company uses sugar in products such as Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta, Dr Pepper, vitamin water, energy drinks, and fruit/juice drinks.
Although Coca-Cola has committed itself to Oxfam's zero tolerance policy on land grabbing, the company lacks policies and commitments of its own to identify, prevent, and address potential land rights violations, Oxfam said in its report.
Survival International insists: "If Coca-Cola's commitment is to be taken seriously, the company has to stop buying sugar from Bunge. As long as the deal continues, Coke's pledge against land grabbing is meaningless."