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Beverage Companies Wary of ‘Blood Sugar’ in Supply Chain

A truck leaves a Coca-Cola factory to distribute its bevarages to shops and restaurants in Phnom Penh, file photo.
A truck leaves a Coca-Cola factory to distribute its bevarages to shops and restaurants in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Two major US beverage companies say they are mindful of alleged human rights abuses amid sugar plantations in Cambodia and will not do business with those proven to be involved in them.

Representatives from Coca-Cola and Pepsi both said in emails to VOA Khmer that they are not aware of sugar in their supply chain supplied by rights violators.

So-called “blood sugar” plantations in Cambodia have been accused of violently evicting villagers in order to raze farmland and build their plantations. Both companies get sugar from Thai suppliers, but it is unclear whether those suppliers get their raw sugar from rights-violating plantations.

“The Coca-Cola Company takes its land rights commitment seriously, and we are working with our suppliers to help ensure respect for and prevention of violations of land rights across the Coca-Cola supply chain,” a spokeswoman for the company said in an email. “We always try to work with suppliers on corrective action, if issues arise, because ultimately our goal is to see the issue resolved. If such action is not taken, the Company will terminate a supplier relationship.”

Coca-Cola is “engaged in dialogue with our Thai suppliers following allegations made by Oxfam and directly to the Company about alleged land rights violations in the sugar business in Cambodia,” the spokeswoman said. “We have not terminated any contracts, and discussions with our Thai suppliers are ongoing.”

PepsiCo has similar codes of conduct, including a land-rights policy.

“PepsiCo has zero tolerance for illegal activities in our supply chain and for land displacements of any legitimate land tenure holders, which are contrary to the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards,” a spokeswoman said in an email.

“PepsiCo has a global Supplier Code of Conduct that helps ensure that our business operations meet our global expectations in the areas of labor practices, associate health and safety, environmental management and business integrity,” she said. “The Code is being incorporated as part of our contracting process with key strategic suppliers and has been translated into more than 25 languages. If questions arise about the practices of suppliers, we take them seriously and engage to address the matter.”

Eang Vuthy, executive director for Equitable Cambodia, which advocates for land rights, said Coca-Cola is working to ensure its supplies do not come from Cambodian “blood sugar,” giving hope to families who have been forcibly evicted.

In particular, families say Phnom Penh Sugar, owned by powerful ruling party official Ly Yong Phat, are violating their rights. Two Thai companies, Mitr Phol and KSL, sell sugar to Coca-Cola, he said, but the company is determined to “solve the problems for victims,” he said.

Officials from Mitr Phol, KSL and Phnom Penh Sugar, did not respond to requests for comment.

Smen Te, a 57-year-old villager from Odar Meanchey province, said he has been the victim of land grabs from companies linked to Mitr Phol, which met with community representatives in Bangkok last year.

“Now we are waiting for Mitr Phol to come and solve it for the people,” he said. “They promised to come to see the people in the villages involved, but until now they have not come.”

The land violations have affected livelihoods of people in his village, who can’t farm or afford to send their children to school, he said. They have sent them to work in Thailand instead, he said.