WWF has joined forces with the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank in a bid to press the global sugar industry to tackle the social and environmental impacts of sugar cane production.
The two organisations convened a two-day meeting in June, hosted by UK sugar giant Tate & Lyle at its London headquarters, to explore the issue.
At least a dozen companies attended, ranging from growers to buyers, processors and traders. Among them were FTSE100 firms Cadbury Schweppes, SABMiller and Unilever.
According to Richard Perkins, agriculture and rural development policy officer at WWF, sugar cane production is a problem for many reasons. It uses huge amounts of fresh water and is often grown in areas where fresh water is scarce. It can degrade the soil in which it is grown and can pollute rivers with effluent run-off. It also changes the natural habitats where it is planted.
There are social impacts too, such as health and safety, child labour and casualisation of labour.
The aim of the project, provisionally called Better Sugar, Better Business, is to encourage all the players in the sugar market to change their practices so they become more sustainable and reduce their harm to the environment and to communities close to the cane fields or mills.
Perkins said delegates to the meeting agreed that most of these problems were issues they could influence. They also recognised there were profit-making opportunities in moving to more responsible production methods, such as turning sugar into ethanol, a sounder alternative to fossil fuels.
Since the meeting, the WWF has published a 34-page report called Sugar and the Environment - Encouraging Better Management Practices in Sugar Production. Perkins said the initial aim was that 15-20 per cent of the world's sugar cane crop would be produced from sustainable sources by 2008.
- WWF and the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank are collaborating on a project that addresses the impact of sugar cane production
- Sugar cane production causes problems such as the use of large amounts of fresh water as well as social problems such as child labour
- The project aims to put pressure on players in the sugar market to change their practices so they become more sustainable.