Following the release of Oxfam’s report, Nothing sweet about it, describing the growing threat of land grabs in the sugar industry, Silvia Regina, the Brazilian State prosecutor overseeing the State of Pernambuco, announced last week that the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) will launch an investigation into delays in resolving one of the cases highlighted in the report.
The case involves a local community in the islands of Sirinhaém on the coast of the state of Pernambuco, Brazil that was violently evicted from their homes to make way for the Usina Trapiche sugar mill, which supplies sugar to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The prosecutor convened a public hearing to assess delays since 2009 in the creation of an Extractive Reserve (RESEX) on the land that would enable the local community to return to the mangroves where they fished and grew food to earn a living and feed their families.
“Action to restore local people’s access to their land is long overdue,” said Gabrielle Watson, campaign manager in Brazil for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands initiative. “The community has fought for years to resolve this conflict but Trapiche and the local authorities have repeatedly blocked progress. We hope this investigation will finally help restore the community’s rights.”
The hearing is the result of a long struggle by local groups and community members as well as increased attention on the case in recent weeks resulting from Oxfam’s report and campaign to urge food and beverage companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Associated British Foods to address land grabs in their supply chains. More than 175,000 people have already signed petitions and taken action to urge food and beverage companies to root out land grabs in their supply chains.
About 30 fishermen and social organizations that have been involved in the case for many years including the Pastoral Land Commission, the Pastoral Council of the Fishermen and the coastal Reef Institute attended the hearing to defend the rights of traditional communities living in region since 1914.
“While the state delays the creations of extractive reserves, sugar mills and the other developments are destroying the traditional territory for thousands of families who live and use the natural resources in a sustainable manner, protecting the environment,” said one of the fisherwomen present.
The public prosecutor said she will request formal justification from the Office of the Presidency for the delays in the creation of the extractive reserve. According to the prosecutor, if no statement or justification is given by the state, the next step will be to take legal action.
Oxfam’s campaign has urged companies to declare zero tolerance for land grabs to help prevent cases like Pernambuco from occurring and to play a constructive role with their suppliers in resolving the cases highlighted in the report. “Companies need to take preventative measures to avoid land grabs in the first place, but it is important that local cases are resolved,” said Watson. “We hope that the action of the Pernambuco State prosecutor helps ensure a positive outcome for the community.”