In a brilliant sketch from his Dressed to Kill tour, Eddie Izzard satirises colonial land grabs. “We stole countries,” he says, “that’s how you start an empire.” It turns out running a business empire isn’t so different…
And dissent can be just as dangerous for indigenous peoples now as it was when imperial powers carved out vast territories for themselves. Oxfam can’t even report on some of the cases of land acquisition it’s witnessed due to security fears for the communities involved. When homes are burned down and thousands of people are uprooted, reprisals can be swift and deadly for those who speak out.
Yet, when land deals covering an area four times the size of Portugal have been recorded since 2000, it’s clear the human impact we’ve recorded is the tip of the iceberg.
The people whose land has been grabbed rarely hold deeds or have lawyers to turn to. Instead, companies with turnovers in the billions simply barge their way in, threatening communities, doing private deals with governments, claiming compliance with weak laws as evidence of their ‘proper’ conduct.
This is happening every day; the global demand for cash crops such as sugar means more and more land is required. And where does this sugar end up? In our favourite brands; our cans of Coke, bags of Walkers’ and our boxes of Jordan’s cereal.
Eddie Izzard’s sketch makes me giggle, but it also triggers the guilt which accompanies any discussion of the UK’s colonial history. Often, charity campaigns engender that same feeling. But what that feeling does is reinforce the differences between north and south; us and them.
From the garment industry to the sugar business, this is how certain corporations suppress our desire to protest – by making us complicit in their second-rate position on fundamental human rights.
What if, instead, we stood in solidarity with people worldwide trying to make a living, to look after their families? What if we demanded that the companies which make our favourite brands treat people and the environment fairly?
The current campaign we’re running focusses on three huge players in the global sugar industry: Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Associated British Foods (ABF). Behind the Brands is a campaign which doesn’t boycott big companies, or shame the people who buy their products. It gives consumers the tools to effect change; to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people at the bottom of the supply chain by demanding better from the companies at the top.
Join them. This Blog Action Day, tell Coke, Pepsi and ABF to make sure their sugar doesn’t lead to land grabs.