Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE)-listed Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited has dismissed accusations on land grabbing made by Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (Somo) in its latest report.
Somo, in its report titled Bittersweet—Sustainability Issues in the Sugarcane Supply Chain said gaps in governance have allowed many individuals and companies to obtain title deeds and land leases from corrupt local chiefs with the help of government officials.
Reads the report in part: “Most of the customary land in many districts in Malawi has been claimed through these methods at the expense of illiterate villagers.”
The report claims that a local non-governmental organisation, Malawi Centre for Advice, Research and Education on Rights, documented many cases of villagers from communities around Illovo Sugar plantations in Nchalo in Chikwawa, who claim to have been victims of land grabbing.
“The Office of the Ombudsman has also received complaints from people from Chipakuza Village in Chikwawa where the villagers claimed that Illovo Sugar has grabbed their land,” reads the report, citing Nchalo as an example.
The report said that in 2008, the sugar manufacturer staked a claim to the land with officials from the company and Chikwawa land department who notified the villagers to vacate the land, claiming that the new paramount chief had agreed to Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited use of it as the legal title holder.
But in a statement responding to the claims made in the report, Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited said the report has attempted to use the company as a case study to gain publicity at the expense of accuracy.
“Illovo Sugar [Malawi] Limited is not and has never been involved in “land grabs”. It is, therefore, regrettable that our leading approach to land has not been recognised nor our internationally acclaimed land guidelines.
“It is also regrettable that Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited’s significant contribution to the livelihoods and economies of the Malawian communities has been ignored,” reads the statement.
Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited said the company is currently not involved in any new business or other developments requiring additional land in Chikwawa.
Reads the statement: “Recognising the complexity of land issues, Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited has spent a great deal of time and resources attempting to resolve or broker settlements of various competing land claims which have arisen as a result of land allocations made long before Illovo even commenced conducting business in Malawi. Our efforts in this regard have received international acclaim.”
With regard to the Somo report on workforce—permanent, seasonal and agency workers—the company said that “all company contracts with external service providers include terms requiring them to manage their employees according to statutory provisions and in accordance with available code of conduct and business ethics and other policies, including Illovo’s forced and child labour guidelines”.
The statement said the only exception between permanent and seasonal workers is that the latter are engaged for the duration of a season, at the end of which a gratuity is paid as provided in the Malawi Employment Amendment Act.
The company said it is also entitled to join the bargaining unit of the union which negotiates a uniform rate across the grades, irrespective of whether a job is agricultural or industrial, seasonal or permanent.