Not So Sweet Sugar

Jan 02, 2018

Sugar production and consumption is increasing globally, as is the awareness of excessive consumption. But most are unaware of the consequences of sugar cane production itself.

We were investigating on behalf of a client recently.

Working conditions:

  • forced labour
  • child labour
  • lack of job security
  • low wages
  • health and safety issues
  • exposure to pesticides

Environmental impacts:

  • loss of animal habitat and biodiversity
  • land and water pollution
  • soil erosion
  • large scale fish and shellfish kill
  • land grabbing

The majority of the sugar cane imported into the EU is from lower to lower middle income countries where its income is an important source of revenue but an unknown share of sugar cane finds its way to the EU market anonymously as refined (white) sugar to be used by:

Barilla, Orkla Foods, Ferrero, Refresco Gerber, Lactalis, Lotus Bakeries, Muller Einkauf & Service and United Biscuits.

Often, we found [i] this is sold as refined sugar by companies globally such as:

Walmart, Costco, Carrefour, Tesco, Lidl and Aldi.

These buyers are reportedly not very interested in knowing the source of their sugar and the share of sustainability certified sugar cane production is relatively low in the market.

For ChangeMakers like us, we have started to look at the buyers and commodity markets, for elements which are shifting prices to use as a tool to discuss with key stakeholders in commercial enterprises (mentioned above) as well as the regulatory framework. Sugar has various levels of protection around the world, and even the EU has a local industry which has incentives and engagements. We are yet to work out how they relate to the imported sugar roles and what share of purchase this is representing in retail and manufacture. We will report back in a year with our findings. Stay tuned!