Comment: Hey Sugar

Sugar impacts the lives of so many people. As you tuck into your Easter goodies, regulation of the sugar industry might be furthest from your mind, but it shouldn't be for three good reasons.

1. Your health

There is a large body of evidence which links sugar to a myriad of unfavourable conditions. Obesity.  Diabetes. Mood swings. The list goes on. The average American eating 68kgs sugar a year - that is my bodyweight in sugar!  And there is no sign of this trend abating. Companies that make the food that we eat, particularly processed food, face a dilemma. They might consider reducing the sugar and salt in their products, but they know that it is precisely these ingredients that will keep the customer coming back for more. So could sugar end up being regulated like alcohol and tobacco?

Michael Bloomberg, New York's mayor, has been attempting to do just that. In case you missed it, the story goes like this. Bloomberg puts a ban on supersize fizzy drinks, and the Health Board of New York agree. This has the 'liberty' fraternity in the States up in arms, eventually seeing the ban overturned on the grounds of non-enforceability. Poor Michael now has to put up with the likes of Sarah Palin drinking supersize soda during her campaign speeches. However this debate is unlikely to go away, especially when you consider that in the UK, a 'fizzy drinks tax' could raise revenues of £1bn.

2. The marketing your children see

Coca-Cola's 'coming together' ad campaign calls for everyone - governments, individuals, and the food industry - to work together to combat obesity. Their simple message is that "all calories count". It's a big and bold step, but is it big enough for them to avert any potential lawsuits that might come their way (as happened in the tobacco industry)?

An FTC (Federal Trade Commission) study back in 2007 reported that children in the UK watch around 10,000 adverts a year - not just on kids TV. The Children's Rights and Business Principles, jointly developed by UNGC, UNICEF and Save the Children, includes the responsibility of companies to support children's rights in using marketing that raises awareness of and promotes children's rights, positive self esteem, healthy lifestyles and non-violent values. This is deemed 'soft law' and is the route to hard law if it becomes clear companies aren't taking the hint.

The principles also set out the corporate responsibility to respect children's rights which includes "Product labelling and information should be clear, accurate and complete, and empower parents and children to make informed decisions". Mother of three, Emma, says "I just don't have fizzy drinks in the house". She tells me that McDonalds sells a "no added sugar product" called Fruitizz made with juice concentrate and sparkling water. But, sports nutritionists point out that due to the absence of fibre that slows down the energy release, the jury's still out as to how much 'better' these calories are than those of refined sugar - which doesn't make calorie labelling any easier to understand.

3. Were others harmed in the making of your sugar?

There are over 130 sugar companies in the world. Südzucker (a German plc) and Associated British Foods (who own British Sugar) are the world's top sugar producers.  Between them they produce some 8.4million tonnes of sugar per annum which equates to about 1.2million acres of sugar cane fields for these two companies alone. OK, so the maths is a bit general but you get the idea that we are starting to talk about quite a lot of land set aside for sugar.

With the demand for land, comes the complexities of the needs of the people who live on the land. The top five producers of sugar cane in the world are Brazil, India, China, Thailand, Pakistan and Mexico. With a mixture of large and small holder growers there are a significant number of people who are propping up our sugar cravings.  Some, it seems, are treated better than others. The Clean Sugar Campaign has a petition in play calling on the European Commissioner for Trade to launch an investigation into land grabbing and human rights abuses in Cambodia committed by sugar companies benefiting from trade privileges.

Unconscious complicity is a serious problem for companies. Even supply chain audits are showing their limitations - let's face it, are you likely to admit your problems to a stranger? We at twentyfifty believe that the real issues, and solutions, are uncovered with proactive relationship building and this is what we help our clients to achieve.

So whilst I tuck somewhat guiltily into my Easter eggs, as I watch another ad for tasty food on the TV, at least I can sleep well in the knowledge that at work I am helping to positively impact the societies that provided me with my treats.