Agribusiness & Food, Logistics, Ports & Terminals

Front foot defensive from Wilmar over cane battle

Queensland’s sugar mills have produced more than two million tonnes of raw sugar this season, according to the Australian Sugar Milling Council (ASMC).

International sugar conglomerate Wilmar has publicly defended itself against accusations it is giving Queensland cane growers a raw deal.

Wilmar is engaged in a bitter dispute with growers over its perceived contribution to the industry, and how much it gets out in return.

Growers recently made noise over the international firm winning an extra seat on the board of Sugar Terminals Limited, the owner of six bulk sugar terminals in Queensland. There have also been accusations Wilmar’s control of the Burdekin region, where it owns all mills.

The company, it seems, has had enough of this criticism.

In an open letter, full-page advertisement in the Wednesday, November 16 edition of the Australian Financial Review, Wilmar said it was committed to working with the 1500 Queensland cane growers who supply its eight mills “by negotiating fair and competitive agreements for the supply of cane”.

“We are disappointed at recent unfair criticism of Wilmar in the media which has received wide media coverage,” the company said, “claims that we act outside the law and disadvantage cane growers. This is simply not true.”

Wilmar said recent efforts to have the media publish its side of the story have received very little response. So, it wrote, it is “compelled to take this step to correct the facts”.

The conglomerate went on to outline a number of key misconceptions it says are prevalent in the public conversation.

“Allegations were made that Wilmar had written new and unfair clauses into the 2017 cane supply contracts,” it said, for example. “Two examples were cited in support of this claim.

“In both cases, the provisions cited were long-standing clauses contained in existing agreements and despite claims by the growers making these allegations that they had never seen these before, similar clauses are contained in an alternative supply agreement that the growers’ own collective handed to Wilmar on 30 June this year.”

Wilmar also took issue with reports that growers’ greatest concern was a clause which allows its mills to arbitrarily reject cane.

“This is surprising given that a cane rejection provision is a standard provision found in existing cane supply agreements between cane growers and mills in Australia, including in Wilmar’s agreements, but has always been subject to the condition that the cane is unfit for crushing and making sugar.”

In summary, the conglomerate said it understands there is a robust debate surrounding issues in the sugar industry.

“We welcome the debate,” it wrote, “but it is important that it is based on facts and not misrepresentations. It is also important that both sides of the debate be fairly reported.”

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