About Me

Oxfam Action Corps NYC is a group of dedicated volunteers supporting Oxfam America and working to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and social injustice.

Oxfam Action Corps: Oxfam Action Corps NYC Summer Retreat

Oxfam Action Corps: Oxfam Action Corps NYC Summer Retreat: Nestled in a cozy studio room at the Producers’ Club in Hell’s Kitchen, co-organizers Liz Tillman and Jennifer Viechweg-Horsford educate...

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Annual Retreat

Oxfam Action Corps held their annual retreat and training sessions this weekend in NYC.  Set in a creative environment, The Producer's Club, the laid back environment facilitated easy exchange of information and ideas between volunteers new and old.

Most important was learning about the Behind the Brands campaign, which holds the top 10 major corporations accountable for resources in their supply change and their effects.  Which also raised questions about other brands - "What about Starbucks, and Chipotle?"  Volunteers got to use the acting studio to it's full advantage, acting out real life tabling scenarios of on the the ground outreach work.  Overall fun was had by all while working to right the wrongs for a great cause.

Missed the retreat? Take Action NOW! Oxfam Action Corps NYC is currently targeting General Mills and Kellogg's regarding climate change policy.  Take action by signing our petition here.  Come join us and be part of the biggest Climate Change March in history!  The People's Climate March in NYC Sept. 21st!  Stay tuned for more information from Oxfam NYC.

See you in September!

Oxfam Action Corps Launches Oxfam Jam 2014

In February, Oxfam Action Corps NYC hosted the first ever Oxfam Jam Concert Series in NYC.  This two night event, combined local musician and artists to raise money for Oxfam’s great work. Oxfam Jam was started as a response the successful Oxjam festivals that started in the UK 6 years ago to raise money for Oxfam’s work.  During those 6 years, Oxjam has produced over 4000 shows, essentially making it the largest festival in the UK…a pretty big deal for a place that’s home to Glastonbury!

Night 1 at Spikehill brought a nearly sold out house, with over 100 people in the crowd and two special live art performances.  The night started off with Casey Dinkin’s soulful and sweet sound.  Next up was a fun rock number from Colorform, complete with their 6th band member, Sarah Valleri working the colors in front on the Oxfam banner.  Squeeze Rock got the crowd dancing with upbeat accordion rap/rock, and the crowd favorite being a cover of “Sorry Miss Jackson.”  Ellis Ashbrook close the night by giving the crowd a good old fashioned psychedelic rock set rock to keep the party going, completely with local artist Anthony Cerretani creating equally psychedelic at in the corner.

Night 2 at The Knitting Factory brought and equally as large crowd out for a good old fashioned rock n roll show.  The night start out with an energetic performance from Brooklyn’s own nerd-rock themed band Chamber Band, who sang songs about dragons and hunger games – fitting Oxfam topics.  Next was up was indie-rock band Field Mouse, true Oxfam veterans since their lead singer Rachel has pitched in and volunteered at local Oxfam concerts and events.  The Attic Ends closed the night with a huge on stage performance and atmospheric rock sound. 

Thank you to everyone who was a part of this night.  We can wait to do it again next year.  See you all in February 2015 and look for Oxfam Jams popping up in a city near you! In the meantime, look for the Oxfam table at shows in the city throughout the summer and sign our most recent petition!

Photos below.  Click on the names to check out the artists here:
Live Artists:


You know Oxfam, you love Oxfam, now lead Oxfam in your hometown

Leadership opportunity:  Organize in your community to end global hunger – join the Oxfam Action Corps! 

Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization, invites you to play a leading role in the Oxfam Action Corps, an exciting grassroots effort to stand up to poverty, hunger, and injustice around the world – starting right in your community.  The Oxfam Action Corps is a group of trained grassroots advocates in fifteen US cities who organize with other local volunteers in support of our GROW campaign for policies that will save lives, defend the rights of women and farmers, and protect communities worldwide from rising food prices and climate change.  It includes a free national advocacy and leadership training for select participants. You will gain leadership skills, have fun, and change the world!

Sign-up by February 14 to apply for Oxfam’s free four-day leadership training in Washington D.C. April 5-8, 2014.  

"This is leadership in practice. You can't just read a book on leadership. You have to put it into practice." - Jill Mizell, Researcher, New York

“Oxfam Action Corps has given me a ton of confidence… Gaining knowledge and being able to speak to people about the issues.”  - Amy L., Business Operations Analyst, Des Moines

"This has become one of the best parts of my life… I can't express enough how satisfying it is to be organizing with people who are just as committed and dependable and passionate. It is so great to have the support from the Oxfam America staff, and I've been really impressed by their accessibility, competency and friendliness." – Isaac E., Educator, New York City

View and share the short video below, highlighting the great work done by the Action Corps.

Sign up at www.oxfamactioncorps.org by February 14

Our Voices Have Been Heard: Coca-Cola Agrees to Zero Tolerance Policy for Land Grabs

Here is a great post from our Action Corps in the San Francisco Bay area, highlighting their work and success with the campaign!

Original post can be found at: http://sfbay-oxfamactioncorps.blogspot.com/

Our Voices Have Been Heard: 

Coca-Cola Agrees to Zero Tolerance Policy for Land Grabs


Ladies and Gentlemen, our hard work is paying off! All of our hours spent volunteering, campaigning, speaking out, and signing petitions is showing fruition. Over 225,000 people called for action to prevent land grabs and Coca-Cola has heard us. The food and beverage giant Coca-Cola has agreed to respect and protect the land rights of indigenous communities from which it sources its sugar. Specifically, Coca-Cola has agreed to:
  1. A zero tolerance policy on land grabs
  2. A “know and show” policy relating to being held accountable and aware of land rights and conflicts within its supply chain
  3. To support responsible agriculture investment and to advocate for governments and others to tackle land grabbing;
Sugar production requires a vast amount of land and is currently at an all time high triggering land conflicts and abuse. Coca-Cola is the largest sugar producer in the world making this news all the more amazing. Coca-Cola is the first beverage and food company to take such a stand, but should not be the last. For more information on this breaking news visit politicsofpoverty.oxfamamerica.org

Our mission and work does not end here. PepsiCo and Associated British Foods are some of the largest sugar producers in the world and as such we are urging them to follow in Coca-Cola’s footsteps and make a change in relation to the allowance of land grabs within their supply chains. In order to do this we need your help.

What Can You Do to Stop This?

Start by signing Oxfam's current petition to urge Pepsi-co and Associated British Foods to follow Coca-Cola’s example and hold themselves accountable for the land and human rights atrocities occurring in their supply chains. These huge companies have the market power to pressure their suppliers into committing to zero tolerance land grab policies and you have the power to pressure these food and beverage giants into stepping up and standing against land grabs. Make sure your voice is heard.

Then share the following messages:

Via Twitter

Tell @PepsiCo & #ABF to take action against land grabs! #BehindTheBrands

Via Facebook

Post the following message to PepsiCo's Facebook page

Stop land grabs! Tell PepsiCo and ABF—some of the biggest buyers of sugar in the world—to make sure their sugar doesn’t lead to land grabs that force poor farmers and their families off their land. #BehindTheBrands!

Typhoon Haiyan: Relief and Rehabilitation

by Nikko Viquiera

When news of a super typhoon about to hit central Philippines started coming out last month, many Filipinos, including me, shrugged it off and went on with our regular schedule, knowing that country gets an average of 22 typhoons annually. A day after the typhoon came; news outlets reported less than a hundred dead people. People thought it could have been worse and were glad that it wasn’t as big of a tragedy as other major typhoons have been in the past.

Days later, nothing could have prepared us for the breadth and depth of the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan. To date, over 5,000 people and counting are dead and 10 million other Filipinos have been affected in one way or another.

As a former Program Officer for Jesuit Volunteers Philippines (JVP), I used to visit volunteers in Samar, one of the hardest hit regions by the typhoon. JVP sends volunteers to marginalized communities around the country to serve as educators, youth formators and community organizers. One such community is Lawaan in Eastern Samar. It was a small, quiet town by the sea, where many fish and farmed for a living. I would visit the parish school where volunteers where assigned as educators for high school students. The community would always be very welcoming, serving me the best food and accommodation they had to offer when they did not have much.

One afternoon, I remember some of the students in the Parish school invited me to ring the 6:00 pm bell. We climbed the bell tower beside the Church, just as the sun was beginning to set. As I rang the bells that echoed through the town, the sun began to set on the people going home after a day’s work, on the children playing in the streets and the coconut trees that stood as tall as the bell tower.

Today, most of the town has been destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. The once mighty coconut trees have fallen, along with many houses, the school and the church. A more recent picture shows that only the bell tower remains standing amidst a sea of debris and destruction.

And so it is for many other towns ravaged by the typhoon in Eastern Samar, Palawan and Cebu. Dead bodies are everywhere, waiting for surviving relatives to recognize and claim them. Just this week, 120 bodies were discovered under the San Juanico Bridge, the longest one in the country. Reports describe residents walking around aimlessly like zombies. They are dazed and confused, with no work to do and no house to go home to. As such, many have flown to cities such as Manila in search of jobs, anything to get away from the rubble of their previous lives, only to find themselves homeless and jobless in a city that can be as unkind and apathetic as a typhoon.

Yet in the darkness of the devastation shines the generosity of people. More developed countries such as the US, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom have pledged millions of dollars in relief. Relief agencies such as Oxfam, Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services were quick to respond and have been present in the region since Day 1.Oxfam Pilipinas, in particular, through the generous donations of people all over the world, has been working to provide clean water and sanitation to victims of the typhoon. Individuals and small groups have organized themselves and made efforts to raise funds for the victims of the typhoon. In Manila, people have offered to take turns feeding and keeping those, who left their homes in search of livelihood, stranded in the airports company.

But as news of the typhoon and its deadly effects begin to fade in the news, the more difficult task of rebuilding and rehabilitation is just starting. How does one rebuild thousands of houses, roads and structures from the ground up, all at the same time? How do we bring back livelihood to towns where even trees no longer stand? How do we begin to bring back hope to those who are still counting their dead and their losses? How do we begin anew?

A month has passed since the typhoon killed thousands of people and left survivors hungry, homeless and jobless. And yet many groups and individuals continue to work in the Haiyan areas, this time with a focus on rehabilitation. Oxfam, for example, has distributed rice seeds to rural areas to help farmers earn income again.

Many have pointed to the resilience of the Filipino people to withstand any tragedy as the main key to rehabilitation. But as Christmas nears, and the tenuous task of rehabilitation unfolds before us, we realize that resilience is not enough. We also need critical minds, calm spirits and skilled, tireless hands that move together like waves in strength and unison.

Reflections on the Marathon: Together we can go far

I had a great time cheering for runners from the Oxfam team at the NYC Marathon. This was Oxfam’s first year participating as a charity team. (They were supposed to have a team in 2012, but the marathon was canceled after Hurricane Sandy.) For me, anyone who undertakes a marathon must be a hopeful person who believes that hard work and struggle will pay off in the long run despite difficulties along the way. That is a great metaphor for those of us working for social change, and reminds me of one of my favorite quotes “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change” (Jim Wallis).
If you follow the activities of the Oxfam Action Corps NYC, you will know that we have had quite a busy summer and fall.  We weren’t sure whether we would be able to set up a cheering station at the marathon or not. But given that the New York City Marathon is like a fun, citywide block party, often with a social purpose (several people running for charities and others with messages such as “Boston Strong”) and that a handful of Oxfam staff members and supporters were part of the Oxfam team (including Clara Herrero, an Oxfam America staff member from Boston who provides incredible support to the Oxfam Action Corps program; Leah Sedler, a former Action Corps co-leader from Minnesota; Louis Belanger, an Oxfam International press staff member based in New York) who collectively raised almost $40K for Oxfam, how could we let them run by without a great New York City and Oxfam Action Corps NYC welcome and cheer?

Our cheering station was very spirited. We were joined by Oxfam staff members Jessica Glidden and Zoya Craig. Jessica coordinated the Oxfam Marathon team, and brought materials to use to cheer with. She also brought sport gels to pass out to the runners. Zoya had very funny signs, including one that said “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon.” Several runners stopped to take photos with her signs.

Cheering was also a great reminder of how important it is for us to support, care for, and be gentle with each other as we work for social change. Running a marathon, like working for social change, is hard work and requires endurance. I completed a walking marathon (yes, 26.2 miles) in London, and a walk around the perimeter of Manhattan (32 miles), and for me, the last few miles were always the hardest. Cheering at mile 22, we saw quite a few runners and walkers who seemed a bit injured and maybe not sure if they would make it for the last 4 miles. Those were the people we cheered for the hardest. A touching moment in the marathon for me was when one of the runners, Clara Herrero, from the Oxfam team was not feeling well on arriving at mile 22, and one of our Action Corps members, Isaac Evans-Frantz, decided to run along and support her through mile 23. It was a beautiful metaphor for me of how much it can mean to support each other along the way. Those of us working for social change can get discouraged, and it is important to look out for each other, cheer, and run alongside someone when they need it. Isaac is the Action Corps’ Alliances Coordinator, and he is also very supportive of our allies. Watching people support each other in the marathon reminds me of the proverb “Alone we can go fast, but together we can go far.”
Finally, the marathon is a good reminder that we need to celebrate our victories along the way. It is important to celebrate when you cross a finish line. We want to celebrate runners’ successes, such as completing the marathon. As organizers and advocates, we need to take time to celebrate victories with lobby visits and campaigns such as "Behind the Brands." Speaking of marathons and celebrations, while we continue to campaign for Pepsi and Associated British Foods to do their part to stop land grabs from happening when they purchase sugar, we have a major victory to celebrate that Coca-Cola has declared zero tolerance for land grabs in their supply chain! Whether your glass has water, cola, or champagne, we can all raise a glass to that news.

by Elizabeth Norman

"Land Rush: Film Screening Shows Complexity of Land Grabs"

“There are two and a half billion peasants in the world, and most of them are farmers. Where are they going to go?”

The question above, asked by Eric Holt-Gim
énez, Executive Director of FoodFirst/Institute for Food and Development Policy, illustrates the dire conflict that land grabs create. Oxfam America’s Behind the Brands campaign, part of the overarching GROW campaign, hopes to call attention to and eventually end land grabs, the practice of purchasing large plots of land in developing nations mainly for food or biofuel production — often without the consent of those living on the land and often done so with force.

On October 24, Oxfam America, Normal Life Pictures, and Fordham University presented a screening of the documentary “Land Rush,” co-directed by Hugo Berkeley and Osvalde Lewat and produced by Eli Cane, followed by a panel discussion afterwards. The film focuses on land grabs’ effects on small farmers in various western African nations, including Mali. The film heavily features sugar company Sosumar and displays both the overwhelming presence and role that foreign companies have in these vulnerable areas. The documentary screened to an almost packed room of around 65 attendees.

I found the documentary to be both riveting and challenging. Many interviewees shared startling statistics such as, “Ten percent of African land is owned by European settlements. Who owns the rest?” This highlighted the main issue behind these large land acquisitions: in many events, the land is officially publically owned by the government. While there are multitudes of small farmers and peasants living on the land, they do not technically own the rights to the land they use. In that case, is the practice of grabbing land okay since it is being done legally? If the land is taken legally, does that still make it acceptable or ethical? By including this information about land rights and ownership issues, the documentary demonstrates how complex and frustrating these situations are. 

One fact shown complicates the issue even further. In the film, it is revealed that the Malian government adopted a food sovereignty policy in 2006 meant to give rights to small, land-owning farmers. However, it is in Mali, as shown in the documentary, where Sosumar is in the process of opening a sugar plant. Despite this food sovereignty policy, the local farming peasant community definitely were not happy to have the plant open up. Several Malian female farmers from a nearby village not affiliated with Sosumar gave testimonies of what other foreign companies did to their land. One elderly woman spoke of being tear gassed, being hit with electric batons and being left to die, and, most heinously, having the family cemetery dug up for development. This was followed up with footage of villagers watching as construction crews destroyed dwellings, homes, above-ground tombs, and gravesites. With that, it is hard to sympathize for the these foreign companies that have acquired the “legal rights” to the land.

Following the film screening, Irit Tamir, Senior Campaigns and Advocacy Advisor for Oxfam America, moderated a panel discussion with Eli Cane, Producer of "Land Rush,” Professor Steven Stoll, environmental historian and a professor of history at Fordham University, and the aforementioned Holt-Giménez. Tamir gave a general overview of Behind the Brands beforehand and invited audience members to have their picture taken holding a sign that said “#stoplandgrabs.” She brought up an interesting but not shocking point that the treatment of women farmers scored second lowest overall across the board for all of the targeted Behind the Brands companies. However, one bright side was six of the ten companies signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also known as the International Bill of Rights for Women. Only two of the companies originally signed it before.

Steven Stoll began the panel discussion with a historical overview of the connection between poverty and agriculture and their deep roots to capitalism. He explained that public land is taken into private property, which is an essential in capitalism. Historically, the assumption was that people didn’t own their own land or grow their own food. “If you do, there really is no use for wages,” Stoll said. Yet, in the 1700s, the term “pauper” was first used to describe people that were not just poor but structurally poor. According to Stoll, this did not exist before capitalism.

Holt-Giménez made a fascinating point during the discussion. While he commended the audience members for their concern of the well-being of small, peasant farmers, he also told us to be wary of “fair trade” labels, claiming that it doesn’t necessarily solve the whole issue. He shared an example of small farmers who “fairly traded” exclusively to Starbucks, which was profitable until the 2006 economic crash, when Starbucks closed 600 locations. That hit the small peasant farmers extremely hard since they were contractually obligated to grow only for Starbucks, not allowing them to grow for others. “Being a small peasant farmer is not utopian,” Holt-Giménez warned.

I especially appreciated Cane’s insight and reasoning behind producing “Land Rush.” He said his team specifically did not choose a land grab project that was done so with force or without compensation. “It is much trickier to understand morally,” Cane said. To really understand the gravity of the situation, it is much more compelling to show both sides fairly rather than having a David vs. Goliath scenario, where one side is clearly the powerful aggressor and the other is the underdog. The ambiguity allows the viewer to accurately choose who is right or wrong.

One quote resonated throughout the film and later during the panelists' discussion. At one point in “Land Rush,” a small farmer says, “If they give us lots of money for our land, our land is worth more than their money.” This rings cosmically true in both the literal and figurative sense of worth. It reminds us all that the value of human life is intrinsic and eternally more important than any monetary gain could ever be.

By: Andrea Vocos

Photography credit: Nikko Viquiera

Profiles in Courage: Highlights from the World Food Prize

By Elizabeth Norman

Going to the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, with Oxfam last week was a game-changing and truly inspiring experience. I left feeling re-energized and re-focused about why Oxfam's work of righting the wrong of poverty and injustice is so important and how I want to use the power that I have, and encourage others to use their power, to take action for change.  Many of the presentations that we heard from Oxfam-related events focused on the core message that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, yet due to injustices in the food system, around 1 in 8 people are hungry. Oxfam organized several sessions, including a panel in Ames, Iowa, with Frances Moore Lappé that served as an alternative for those not interested in attending the official Prize ceremony. My main highlights and take-aways from the week were:

Putting women and small-scale farmers in the picture
While the sessions I heard at the World Food Prize seemed generally well-intentioned, women and small-scale farmers were often not at the table or addressed in presentations and questions. Oxfam played an important role of keeping women and small-scale farmers in the picture by bringing Harriet Nakabaale and her son Jjumba Frank Luyinda, urban farmers who are farming on 50 feet by 32 feet in Kampala, Uganda, and Kijoolu Kaliya, a Maasai woman who mobilized women to preserve land rights in the Ngorongoro District in Tanzania, to speak and present. Both Harriet Nakabaale and Kijoolu Kaliya spoke at several events throughout the week (including Kijoolu Kaliya speaking on same main stage that would later have Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland, and philanthropist Howard Buffett speaking) so that many people had the opportunity to hear their voices and stories. ((Read more about Harriet Nakabaale in her own words and watch an inspiring short video about Camp Green. Watch Kijoolu Kaliya's amazing presentation at the World Food Prize here (the panel starts with an excellent overview by Sir Gordon Conway around 3:20:00, then a great presentation on land rights by Tim Hanstad from Landesa and then Kijoolu Kaliya's presentation starts around 3:30:00). 
Mwanahamisi Salimu of Oxfam in Tanzania, Harriet Nakabaale & Kijoolu Kaliya ask Pepsi to stop land grabs. Join this call at www.behindthebrands.org/actnow .
In addition, Oxfam America staff and Action Corps members were present to bring the focus of the conversations back to women and small-scale farmers.
Group photo at Marshalltown Community College. Top row, left to right: Suad Maow, Jjumba Frank Luyinda, Harriet Nakabaale, Mwanahamisi Salimu, Kijoolu Kaliya, Elizabeth Norman, Brittany Wilson. Front row, left to right: Yoshiko Hill, Amy Luebbert, Lena Muntemba.

Courage and Risk-Taking
I was so inspired by the courage of some of the women that I met on this trip, especially Harriet Nakabaale and Kijoolu Kaliya. Hearing Kijoolu Kaliya speak about the risks that she and others experienced while mobilizing to save their land from a private, foreign investor (e.g. homes were burned down and people were shot at) was very moving and inspiring. We were able to meet and hear a presentation from Frances Moore Lappé in Ames, Iowa. After Harriet Nakabaale and Kijoolu Kaliya spoke, Lappé closed by saying that human beings are good enough in general, but we need to work on our courage and that we need to think about how we can step up more and how we can take risks to challenge power.

A personal highlight for me in risk-taking was when I asked a question in front of about 200 people at a side event called "Developing Strong Public-Private Sector Partnerships in Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition in Africa." Brian Rawson from Oxfam America had encouraged us to feel empowered to ask questions in sessions. When I heard a government official  from a country in eastern Africa speaking at this event, he talked how about sugarcane is a good crop for commercialization, that his country is a good area for foreign investment and that we could buy a thousand hectares (about 2500 acres) to own and plant.  Because Oxfam is working to end land grabs related to sugar purchases by the world's largest food and beverage companies, this presentation (which also talked about weather insurance and other ideas that
sound positive for farmers) moved me to ask a question about how to avoid land grabs in this process. I asked: what are his government's best practices are for insuring free, prior and informed consent for these land deals? And how do they protect women, small-scale farmers, and anyone using that land without formal land rights. The representative only had time for a short (but substantive and encouraging) answer, but I also felt good that I had raised the issue of land grabs and sugar in front of a large, influential audience. I really appreciate Oxfam and the Action Corps for helping train and empower me to ask an impromptu question like that.

Dialogue and Connections
            I really appreciated the opportunity at the World Food Prize to have dialogue with and form connections with people from different walks of life. From meeting and talking with farmers and biology professors at Marshalltown Community College to meeting a Kenyan woman working on mobile soil testing at Columbia University to talking to a consultant from one of the Big Four accounting firms about financing for small-scale farmers, at every turn there were opportunities for open and interesting conversations with people I would not normally meet in New York. I appreciated the open spirit and willingness to discuss issues such as GMOs and why India and many African countries ban them and why it is difficult for small-scale farmers to access capital that they need. I really appreciated the opportunity to speak informally with Oxfam America's President Ray Offenheiser. I also really appreciated the opportunity to speak to Jim French from Oxfam America, who coordinated Oxfam's presence at the World Food Prize, about farming and the connections between urban and rural farmers in this country and around the world.
            Finally, I really appreciated and was inspired by deepening connections with staff from Oxfam America and Oxfam in Tanzania as well as getting to know other Oxfam Action Corps members from around the country better.  You all inspire me.
Group photo at Des Moines' fabulous farmers market. Those not pictured above, from left to right, Kelly Buffalo and Aaron Schlumbohm (from the Oxfam Action Corps Des Moines) and Jim French (farmer and Senior Advocacy Advisor, Agriculture, for Oxfam America).
            I was sad to leave such a great week in Iowa but excited to come back to New York re-energized to work with others here and around the world to right the wrong.

Behind the Scenes - Caution: Ingredients May Cause Land Grabs

Devoted Oxfam supporters and staff members supplemented PepsiCo’s iconic neon sign in Gantry Plaza State Park, Long Island City with a banner in order to raise awareness and relay a message to PepsiCo and its consumers. Oxfam’s striking yellow and black banner stating: ‘Caution: Ingredients may cause Land Grabs’ protested the sugar being used in PepsiCo products. It has been recently revealed that this very sugar is being farmed on land that has been wrongfully acquired.

On World Food Day (Oct 16th) members of the NYC Oxfam Action Corps released a critical message to PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage producer in the world on the basis of net revenue. Although PepsiCo have made many positive strides in recent years in relation to child labor, combatting energy usage and attempts towards carbon footprint regulation, land grabs are currently the subject of public outcry. The uproar has stemmed from knowledge that land grabs have been caused by acquisition of land for sugar production along PepsiCo’s supply chain.

Land acquisitions or land grabs consist of the practice of acquiring land without free, prior and informed consent and often from smallholder farmers and their families, the vast majority of whom are wholly reliant on the land for their livelihoods. Lucrative deals tempt local officials and investors to engage in large scale land deals without making efforts in safeguarding the rights of locals living off the land. The acquisition has been known to take place without regard to the livelihoods, food security or continued sustainability for current inhabitants, forcibly, excluding just compensation and thus in complete violation of human rights.

Along with PepsiCo (manufacturer of Lay’s, Doritos and Tropicana), amongst the culprits are Coca-Cola (brands include Minute Maid, Fanta & Dasani water) and Associated British Foods plc (ABF), makers of Mazola oil and Twinings tea as well as other brands. It should be noted that ABF is also known to be a majority stakeholder in Illovo Sugar, Africa’s largest sugar company. More than half of ABF’s sugar is derived from sugar cane, most of which is produced by Illovo Sugar in six African countries: Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. Furthermore, Illovo Sugar has been linked to land conflicts in media reports. Illovo Sugar is profiled in the film, “Land Rush” which will be screened by the NYC Oxfam Action Corps on October 24th. For more details and to RSVP, please go to the following link http://oxfamactioncorpsnyc.eventbrite.com

Although corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and ABF do not buy or own the land, they are reaping benefits from land deals through their widespread use of commodities (such as sugar) that has been grown on wrongly acquired land. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are the largest buyers of sugar and ABF holds the title for being one of the world’s biggest producers of sugar. These large corporations have an option to step up to the plate and become pioneers in providing transparency by knowing and declaring the full extent of their supply chains, having zero tolerance for land grabs, thus leading the way for positive industry standards to ensure that smallholder farmers do not lose their land. An Oxfam America fact sheet providing more details can be found here: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/files/fact-sheet-when-sugar-isnt-sweet-oxfam.pdf

The enthusiasm of volunteers in attendance was remarkable due to the fact that the event took place early morning on a cloudy Wednesday at the edge of Long Island City. The Long Island City location however also proved to be particularly inviting, as an impeccably pristine and well kept park on the edge of the East River. Gantry Plaza State Park is complemented with the stunning Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, thus setting the scene perfectly for a visually appealing stunt.

Oxfam’s social media footprint was large. Messages protesting land grabs resonated on the internet; echoed and amplified with the help of Oxfam staff and volunteers who simultaneously performed a similar stunt outside Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. It was not long before the hashtag #BehindtheBrands was trending on twitter and photos began to resurface as a result of retweets.

One of the most memorable moments of the day included a few uplifting words spoken by Judy Beal, Oxfam America’s campaigns director, fortunate enough on this occasion to be able to attend the event instead of viewing the unfolding from a computer screen. Judy spoke of the overwhelming positive response the ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign has generated in a relatively short period of time.  It was stressed that signs of commitments toward significant progress have been taking place because brands have a lot to lose if their image is tarnished. Companies rely on the stellar reputations of their labels to be able to sell products easily.

Going behind the scenes and ‘Behind the Brands’ to show that household names are not living up to expectations is one of Oxfam’s most powerful tools. Oxfam’s scorecard reports and subsequent activism have been instrumental in drawing attention to the lack of transparency and accountability in the supply chains for many household brands. Help Oxfam achieve success with these corporations by signing the petition here: http://www.behindthebrands.org/en-us/actnow

By: Shireen Alam
Photo credit: Vasia Markides