Why Oxfam Can Hold Brands Accountable for Land Grabbing

Oxfam scored big in March when it announced that Pepsico, the second largest food and beverage brand, agreed to cease land grabbing in its supply chain.

“Consumer power just got a little bit stronger,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. The second biggest food and beverage company in the world has committed to put its full weight behind preventing land grabs in its supply chain. Suppliers who want their ingredients to be used in everything from Pepsi Cola and Doritos to Gatorade and Mountain Dew must now ensure their land is acquired responsibly.

In consultation with Oxfam, Pepsico revised its land policy to reflect zero tolerance for illegal activities in its supply chain and for land displacements of any legitimate land tenure holders, per its statement. Displacement of legitimate land tenure holders is particularly critical. Landesa, a global land rights organization, says 75% of the world’s population relies on land for their living.  The question remains: if multinational corporations gobble up the vast majority of the most fertile and arable land, where can these people go and how can they make a living?

Last year Oxfam launched its Behind the Brands campaign in which it holds the world’s largest food brands accountable on such topics as its land use, treatment of women, farmers, and workers as well as how the brands affects water and climate and how they score on transparency. How can Oxfam hold companies like Pepsico, Mars, General Mills and Unilever accountable for their affect on the world? Two words: its funding.

According to Oxfam’s financial reports, it only receives 1.8% of its funding from corporations. The rest is from individuals, foundations, bequests and legacies, investments and events. While the pace is quickening for many iNGOs to move towards increased public-private partnerships, Oxfam remains a maverick in this regard and is able to be a watchdog for the global food industry and other public-private partnerships. For example, Oxfam expressed concern about the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and recently published a piece on the detrimental affects of public-private partnerships in Lesotho’s healthcare system.

In full disclosure, I am a member of Oxfam America’s Sisters on the Planet, however, I have been personally interested in how Oxfam has been able to challenge the status quo on many fronts and wanted to explore it.

Despite Oxfam’s campaign to hold food brands accountable what clearly remains to be seen is whether the brands are simply providing lip service to placate their consumers or whether they are ready to be held to account for their business practices.

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