One of Australia’s big banks is facing scrutiny it financed a Cambodian sugar business responsible for forcing almost 500 families off their land, as the conduct of Australia’s ‘big four’ in developing countries is analysed. Click here to watch the special report.
(Friday, 24 January, Phnom Penh Post) - Shareholders will want answers from ANZ bank after it was revealed this week that the banking giant’s joint venture in Cambodia financed ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat’s controversial sugar plantation, the Responsible Investment Association Australia (RIAA) said yesterday.
(Phnom Penh, 22 January 2014) – Two confidential social and environmental audits leaked to the Clean Sugar Campaign indicate that ANZ Royal Bank provided significant financing for a sugar plantation and refinery owned by the notorious Cambodian senator and tycoon Ly Yong Phat. ANZ confirmed its financing of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company in a meeting with campaign and community representatives on Sunday.
At the time ANZ gave the green light for the deal, Phnom Penh Sugar Co. Ltd and its sister company Kampong Speu Sugar Co. Ltd. were tied up in a very public conflict with hundreds of families in the Thpong and Oral districts of Kampong Speu province, where their sprawling 23,000 hectare sugar plantation was established by seizing homes, rice fields, orchards, grazing land and community forests relied upon by local farmers in at least 21 villages.
“It is hard to reconcile financing one of Cambodia’s most high-profile land grabs with the social and environmental commitments that ANZ made when it signed on to the Equator Principles,” said David Pred, Managing Associate of Inclusive Development International.
“Lending money to Ly Yong Phat is hardly befitting of a bank that has been repeatedly ranked as the most sustainable bank globally by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. This is someone who has been implicated in violent forced evictions and land grabbing in three provinces, illegal logging and deforestation, child labor, and the use of military, police and the courts to intimidate, arrest and imprison villagers who dared to protest,” Pred said.
“This case serious calls into question the credibility of ANZ’s due diligence process, he added.
Eang Vuthy, Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia, said: “The 2010 Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment that ANZ appears to have relied upon for its due diligence is a whitewash. Its claim that the living conditions of villagers who were resettled to small plots at the bottom of Pis mountain were either improved or remained the same could not be further from the truth – these families have suffered serious food insecurity since losing their land.”
“The assessment fails to mention the hundreds of other families whose farmland, forests and grazing land were forcibly taken by Phnom Penh Sugar and whose livelihoods were destroyed as a result. The 2013 audit’s finding that there is no child labor on the plantations is plain false,” he added.
Phal Vannak, Thpong District representative of the Sugar Justice Network, called on ANZ to help the displaced families get their land back and compensate them for their loss of livelihoods.
“If a known drug dealer wants to borrow money from someone, they probably would not give that money to him because they wouldn’t want to be responsible for his crimes. In this case, ANZ knowingly gave money to a criminal, so the bank also contributed to the crimes and must be responsible for the impacts,” he said.
Natalie Bugalski, Legal Associate of Inclusive Development International, said: “ANZ must have been aware of the misery its client was inflicting on communities because this case was reported on regularly in the press. Yet, at the same time, ANZ was touting its environmental and social credentials to the public, projecting an angelic image that could have misled socially responsible investors.”
“ANZ’s shareholders will be left wondering what other dirty deals this bank has made,” she added.
The November 2010 Environmental and Socio-economic Site Assessment is available here
Phnom Penh Post (Tues, 21 January 2014, Kevin Poniah) The European Parliament has passed a resolution calling on the bloc’s executive body to urgently act on an EU preferential trade scheme found to have carried high risks of human rights violations in Cambodia through land evictions for industrial sugar development.
In a January 16 resolution, EU parliamentarians called on the European Commission “to act, as a matter of urgency, on the findings of the recent human rights impact assessment of the functioning of the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative in Cambodia”.
By Zsombor Peter and Chhorn Chansy / Cambodia Daily – November 11, 2013
Koh Kong Sugar has offered to settle its yearslong dispute with Cambodian families who accuse its plantations of stealing their land, but the farmers remain wary of being able to secure a fair deal.
The firm, a subsidiary of Thailand’s Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Limited (KSL), made the offer during a meeting Saturday in Bangkok with community representatives and the NGOs helping them.
The 200 families say the loss of their farms to KSL’s two sugarcane plantations in Koh Kong province has driven them into poverty, and they want the land back. But Teng Kao, a representative of the families, said the firm preferred to pay them off.
We salute your pledge and now we await your actions to make your suppliers respect human rights
(Phnom Penh, November 12, 2013) – We commend the Coca-Cola Company for its recent pledge of “zero tolerance for land grabbing” in its supply chain. This is a bold and unprecedented commitment by one of the world’s biggest sugar buyers. It has the potential to be truly transformational in reforming a sector that is deeply implicated in land grabbing and environmental destruction.
Yet words are cheap and it is Coke’s actions on which it will be judged by consumers. We will be watching one case in particular to see if Coke means what it says. In its statement on land grabbing, Coca-Cola disclosed that the Thai sugar giant, Mitr Phol, is one of its top three global suppliers.
Mitr Phol’s land concessions in Cambodia were acquired from local communities through violent force. Hundreds of families lost their farmland, crops and access to community forests as a result of the sugar concessions in the Samrong and Chongkal districts of Oddar Meanchey province. More than 250 families had their homes and possessions bulldozed or burned to the ground and their rice crop looted in Bos village in 2008 and 2009 to make way for Mitr Phol’s plantation. Nearly all these families were left landless and homeless, without any receiving compensation for their losses or rehabilitation of their livelihoods. Community leaders who led protests to demand the return of their land were beaten and jailed. As a result of these land grabs, affected people have been left to face deprivation.
Mitr Phol has refused multiple requests to engage with the Clean Sugar Campaign and representatives of the affected communities, including last week when a delegation from Koh Kong, Kampong Speu and Oddar Meanchey provinces went to Bangkok to seek meetings with the Thai companies behind the sugar rush in Cambodia.
The Clean Sugar Campaign calls upon Coke to use its enormous leverage over Mitr Phol to demand that the company provide full and just reparations for all harms and losses suffered, including returning illegally appropriated land, and immediately begin meaningful dialogue with representatives of the affected communities over the nature and means of reparations.
“Our community in Oddar Meanchey was so happy to hear about the Coca-Cola Company’s promise to not tolerate land grabs in its supply chain,” said Hoy Mai, who was evicted from her home and farmland in Bos village in 2009 and then thrown in jail for protesting while she was five months pregnant. “We have suffered so much at the hands of Coke’s supplier, Mitr Phol. We are waiting for Coca-Cola to help end our hardship,” she added.
“Coke’s statement is a watershed moment for the communities in Oddar Meanchey, who have been hopeless that Mitr Phol would ever repair the grave harms they have caused,” said Eang Vuthy, Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia, a Cambodian NGO that is helping the displaced communities in Oddar Meanchey seek justice. “If Coke really means what it says, then we expect Mitr Phol will pick up the phone next time we call.”
“Coke must commence an immediate investigation into the forced evictions and land seizures perpetrated to clear the way for Mitr Phol’s Cambodian operation,” said David Pred, Managing Associate of Inclusive Development International.
“When the world learns the facts about this awful case, Coke consumers will expect that the soft drink giant ensures that justice is promptly delivered to the victims,” he added.
Coca-Cola to Investigate Sugar Sourced From Cambodia
The Coca-Cola Company, the world’s largest beverage supplier, said on Friday that land grabs were “unacceptable” and that the company would not source any sugar produced by companies that refuse to comply with human rights standards.
The soft drink giant said that third parties would be employed to conduct social, environmental and human rights assessments on sugar sourced from several countries, including Thailand, where one of Coca-Cola’s three main sugar suppliers, Mitr Phol, is based.
Mitr Phol is linked to several sugar plantations in Cambodia’s Oddar Meanchey province where hundreds of families have been displaced due to economic land concessions granted by the government for sugar cane plantations.
“The Coca-Cola Company commits to zero tolerance for land grabbing,” the company said in a statement.
“The Coca-Cola Company believes that land grabbing is unacceptable. Our Company does not typically purchase ingredients directly from farms, nor are we owners of sugar farms or plantations, but as a major buyer of sugar, we acknowledge our responsibility to take action and to use our influence to help protect the land rights of local communities,” the statement says.
Dear Commissioner de Gucht,
The undersigned organizations wish to come back to our previous request to launch an investigation regarding the EBA scheme in Cambodia. A new report, “Bittersweet Harvest,” issued by Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development International, empirically documents the adverse human rights impacts of the EBA scheme in Cambodia. The impact assessment found that, in the absence of effective human rights safeguards, Cambodia’s policy of granting large-scale land concessions to private investors for agroindustrial development and the EU’s policy of granting preferential tariffs to spur such investment in least developed countries both carry risks of devastating human rights impacts. These risks materialized in forced evictions and land seizures that have been part and parcel of the development of Cambodia’s sugar industry.
While investment in Cambodian agriculture is badly needed to increase food security and alleviate rural poverty, the investments promoted by these policies have turned out to be disastrous for Cambodian small-scale farmers. Rather than reducing poverty, they have led to widespread impoverishment, hunger and violence.
Cambodia Daily / Zsombor Peter - November 7, 2013
Two Thai sugar companies have turned down a request to meet with NGOs and community representatives who accuse them of having illegally and sometimes violently forced hundreds of families off of their land in Cambodia.
Mitr Phol Sugar and Khon Kaen Sugar are both facing complaints filed with Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission that their plantations in Oddar Meanchey and Koh Kong provinces, respectively, have forced hundreds of families off their land.
Representatives from the two communities and the NGOs helping them are in Thailand this week to re-release a report on their allegations against the firms and last month asked to meet with each of them either today or Saturday.