“Bittersweet blood sugar” – Sugarcane plantation in Cambodia accused of land grabbing by farmers
This is a story brief on the sugarcane plantation (Cambodia) case presented at the Asian People’s Land Rights Tribunal held at the University of the Philippines last 16-17 January 2014.
More than 500 families of farmers and indigenous people, forcibly evicted from their land in the provinces of Koh Kong and Kampong Speu in Cambodia to make way for sugarcane plantation, presented their case in the Asian People’s Land Rights Tribunal held on January 16-17, 2014 in University of the Philippines.
Ly Yong Phat, a billionaire Cambodian Senator and his wife, Kim Heang, were awarded Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) for more than 23,000 hectares used for sugarcane plantation in Kampong Speu in 2010 and 2011. Earlier, on August 2, 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF) granted two ELCs good for 90 years to Thai and Taiwanese companies and Ly Yong Phat as local conduit in Cambodia for 19,100 hectares of sugarcane plantation in Butom Sakor and Sre Ambel in the Province of Koh Kong.
The sugar they produce were sent for export to the United Kingdom, to Tate & Lyle which is one of the two major suppliers of sugar of Coca Cola and PepsiCo.
The ELCs in Koh Kong were awarded to Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd. (KKPC), and Koh Kong Sugar Co. Ltd. (KKSI). Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Limited (KSL), a Thai company holds 50% of the shares in these companies; Taiwanese company Ve Wong Corporation with 30%; and the remaining shares are being held by the Cambodian Senator.
On May 19, 2006, bulldozers accompanied by the Cambodian government’s Armed Forces began to clear the land to make way for the land concession projects. 456 families were forcibly evicted, left homeless and landless. Majority of them faced hunger due to loss of decent and sustainable income opportunities. Some had no choice but to abandon their families and migrate, albeit illegally, to Thailand. The adverse impact of eviction took its toll on the children’s living condition and their access to education with some reported to have acquired physical and mental trauma. Worse, child labor cases were documented in the sugar plantation.
The rural communities with the help of the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) filed civil and criminal cases before the Cambodian Provincial Courts in 2007. They appealed for the cancellation of the ELCs, citing violations to the 2001 Land Law, as well as theft and wrongful damage to property, battery with injury, fraud, arson, and infringement of lawful possession. The criminal cases were dismissed in 2012 and the civil case was referred to Cadastral Commission.
In March 2013, 200 families from Sre Ambel filed a lawsuit in the UK court against Tate and Lyle Sugars and Tate and Lyle Plc, accusing the company of sourcing sugar from lands that are illegally acquired. They sought damages equivalent to the value of sugar produced on the land stolen from them. In July 2013, the UK High Court facilitated a mediation hearing between parties but failed to come to an agreement.
The affected families also filed complaints with the grievance mechanism of Bonsucro, an industry initiative seeking to mitigate social and environmental impacts of sugar production. To date, nearly 3M tons of sugar or 2% of total production have been Bonsucro-certified Tate & Lyle Sugars, formerly a member of the initiative, was suspended by the Bonsucro board on 8 July 2013 for failing to demonstrate “adequate progress within a reasonable time-scale towards meeting the requirements of the Board to provide information regarding a complaint made against the company [related to the Sre Ambel case], nor adequately explaining why these requirements could not be met.” #