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Sourcing Sustainably: Coke Takes Leadership Role to Protect Land Rights of Farmers and Communities

By:  Journey Staff Nov 7, 2013
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Coca-Cola today announced a set of industry-leading commitments to protect the land rights of farmers and communities in the world’s top sugarcane-producing regions, advancing its ongoing efforts to drive transparency and accountability across its global supply chain. The commitments build on the company's Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles announced in July.

“A healthy agricultural supply chain is essential to the well-being of the communities where we operate and to the success of our business,” said Ed Potter, director of global workplace rights, The Coca-Cola Company. “Our approach to sustainable sourcing is rooted in principles to protect the environment, to uphold human and workplace rights, and to help build more sustainable communities.”

Working with Oxfam, Coca-Cola outlined a concrete action plan to address land rights in its supply chain, including zero tolerance for land grabs.

Coke’s zero tolerance declaration includes commitments to: adhere to the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent across its operations and require suppliers to follow suit; disclose the top three countries and suppliers of its cane sugar; conduct and publish third-party social, environmental and human rights assessments, with an initial focus on land conflicts in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, India, the Philippines, Thailand and South Africa; and engage with governments and international organizations to advocate for responsible land rights practices. Download Coke’s commitments.

“Our company does not typically purchase ingredients directly from farms, nor are we owners of sugar farms or plantations, but as a major buyer of several agricultural ingredients, we acknowledge our responsibility to take action and use our influence to help protect the land rights of local communities,” Potter added. “We are committed to being part of a solution in addressing land rights, and look forward to continuing to engage with Oxfam and other stakeholders to advance this important dialogue and bring about meaningful change.”

Several of these commitments, including the comprehensive human rights assessments, have been underway for years.

“This is not a new focus area for us,” adds Potter, who called the baseline assessments “path-breaking” for the industry. “Our ultimate goal is to build respect for human rights and protection of workplace rights so that they stretch unbroken from our system back to the farm, the forest or wherever the points of origin of our raw materials may be.”

Working with suppliers, bottling partners and key stakeholders, the company has taken several key steps to ensure transparency across its supply chain. This summer, Coke publicly announced a commitment to sustainably source key agricultural ingredients – including sugarcane, sugar beet, corn, tea, coffee, palm oil, soy, pulp and paper fiber and orange – by 2020. These priority ingredients comprise the vast majority of Coke’s annual agriculture spend.

This summer, Coke released Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles for agricultural ingredient suppliers. The principles establish human and workplace rights, environmental stewardship and farm management criteria – including asking suppliers to protect the rights of communities to maintain access to land and natural resources – down to the farm level. The company is now working with suppliers and WWF to implement the guidelines.

According to Ben Jordan, director of supplier sustainability at Coca-Cola, promoting sustainability throughout the supply chain starts with going straight to the source to assess environmental and social impacts. “We know we can influence and improve livelihoods for hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of farmers by more active engagement,” he said. “We expect our guiding principles to ultimately have the greatest impact at the farm level, where some of the greatest strides toward sustainability can be made.”

As a member of Bonsucro, Coke worked with peer companies, sugarcane producers, WWF and other NGOs to implement the first global metric standard for sustainable sugarcane production. In 2010, Bonsucro launched its production standard and certification program on the environmental, social and economic impacts of sugarcane production. In 2011, a sugar mill in São Paulo, Brazil, became the first to achieve Bonsucro certification, and Coca-Cola became the first buyer of the mill’s certified sugar.

The company also began piloting a program called Pass It Back in 2012 to share human and workplace rights best practices with key suppliers and work with them to share learnings with their own suppliers.

For more information on Coca-Cola’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and supply chain transparency, please access the company’s 10th annual Sustainability Report and third Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Report.