A new Oxfam report, "Nothing Sweet About It: How Sugar Fuels Land Grabs", claims that people are at risk of losing their homes as the demand for land for sugar crops increases. It claims that in countries such as Brazil and Cambodia farmers are being "kicked off their land".
"Weak" policies mean big food companies cannot guarantee their sugar is not leading to land grabs. The research forms part of Oxfam's 'Grow' campaign, aimed at "fixing the broken food system".
As well as leafleting outside the companies’ headquarters, Oxfam has launched an e-petition and a microsite to push the campaign. It has also posted a hard-hitting video on YouTube to draw attention to the petition.
Responding to the claims, a statement from Coca-Cola said it has provided Oxfam with a proposal outlining key areas of concrete action.
It said: "At The Coca-Cola Company, through our Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles, we are asking our suppliers to recognise and safeguard the rights of communities to maintain access to land and natural resources.
"We are working to promote respect for Human and Workplace Rights by the farm and the employer of workers at the farm, whether or not the employer is the farm itself."
On the specific issue of Cambodia and Brazil, the company said: "We sympathise with the citizens whose lives and livelihoods have been affected.
"While the Coca-Cola system does not buy sugar directly from any suppliers in Cambodia, we have agreed to convene a facilitated stakeholder dialogue to discuss Oxfam’s overall findings of the assessments and next steps, demonstrating the Company’s commitment to transparency and the importance placed on stakeholder engagement."
A PepsiCo spokesperson said its supplier code of conduct helps to ensure that business operations "meet our global expectations" in key areas.
"If questions arise about the practices of suppliers, we take them seriously and engage to address the matter. We have reached out to the suppliers. They have assured us they are in compliance with applicable laws.
"At PepsiCo we believe acting ethically and responsibly is not only the right thing to do, but also the right thing for our business. Therefore we remain committed to working with our partners and external organizations like Oxfam in this area."
ABF, which was criticised by Oxfam for the failure of its African subsidiary Illovo to sign a land ownership pledge, said the "true test of any organisation is what it actually does".
"ABF and Illovo prefer to act on their beliefs and standards rather than pontificate about them. Illovo is a magnificent example of a company that works to the highest ethical standards to benefit the communities in which it operates," the company added.