ANZ racks up record profits on the backs of Cambodia’s poor

ANZ reported half-year cash profits of $3.68 billion last week, a record for the Australian bank. Much of that growth has come in Asia, a market that the bank has pursued aggressively, generating extraordinary wealth for its investors.
But ANZ’s “super regional strategy” has come at an extraordinary human cost in Cambodia. Between 2011 and 2014, the bank lent tens of millions of dollars to finance a controversial sugar company. Relative to the bank’s enormous profits, the loan was small. Yet it contributed to outsized misery for thousands of poor villagers.

Phnom Penh Sugar, the company that received the loan, established the plantation and a cane refinery on land that over 1500 rural families owned and depended upon for their livelihoods. When the families refuse to move, the politically connected company colluded with the Cambodian military and local authorities to forcibly evict the landowners, bulldozing their crops and homes and arresting those who resisted.

Compensation – for the few who received anything – was a small fraction of the market value. Stripped of their farms and ability to make a living, the families have fallen into debt and further poverty. In a cruel twist, some of the victims now find themselves with no option but to undertake back-breaking, dangerous work for the very company that grabbed their land – including children as young as seven, according to dozens of interviews we conducted with their parents.

Rather than use its vast financial resources to make things right, ANZ has wiped its hands of the matter. The bank severed ties with Phnom Penh Sugar after it was encouraged to repay the loan prematurely in July. ANZ now claims that it no longer bears any responsibility to the families.

This is a shocking and callous abdication from a bank that advertises itself as being ethical.

On the contrary, ANZ does bear responsibility for the suffering it helped make possible. The bank made a sizeable profit by financially backing a business built on the impoverishment of more than a dozen local communities.

Ignorance is not an excuse. If the bank had done any amount of due diligence before the deal – a simple Google search would have sufficed – it would have learned that Phnom Penh Sugar’s owner, Cambodian tycoon Ly Yong Phat, has been implicated in a number of other large-scale land grabs and human rights abuses. If it chose not to do this basic research, that’s sheer negligence.

Either way, ANZ has a legal – and moral – obligation to provide reparations to those affected.

In October, with the support of our organizations, 681 displaced families filed a complaint against ANZ with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. ANZ has pledged to follow OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which require companies to ensure that they are not causing or contributing to human rights violations. Investing in Phnom Penh Sugar was a flagrant violation of those guidelines.

Social and environmental guidelines such as these are vital in today’s globally connected economy. As this case shows, decisions made in a boardroom in Melbourne can have devastating consequences for villagers farming the rice paddies of southern Cambodia – and beyond.

Corporations and financial institutions, whose business dealings stretch across continents, must do everything in their power to ensure that they are not causing or enabling human rights abuses. And when abuses occur, they must come clean and work with affected communities to make things right.

ANZ’s directors no doubt hope that this unpleasant business goes away. This week, they’ll want the focus to be on the enormous financial returns they have generated for their shareholders, not a controversy in far-off Cambodia.

But unlike ANZ, victims like Chorm Srey Noun can’t walk away from this disaster. Chorm owes a local bank at least $5,000, money she borrowed to rebuild her life after the theft of her land. That’s a fortune for a 53-year-old Cambodian villager with no land and no real prospect for employment.

In a turn worthy of Kafka, Chorm spent 134 days in jail after a local court convicted her of “stealing” her own land from Phnom Penh Sugar, despite having documents proving she owns it. Living in fear of re-arrest, she has little faith that Cambodia’s institutions will rectify her situation.

ANZ’s corporate slogan is “We live in your world.” The phrase suggests empathy for other cultures. For Chorm and thousands of Cambodians, though, these words have taken on a terrible and sinister meaning. If ANZ wants to continue advertising itself as an ethical business, then it must divest itself of this ill-gotten gain and use those funds to help the victims get back on their feet.

David Pred is the founder and managing director of Inclusive Development International. Eang Vuthy is the Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia. The two organizations are representing the displaced families in their complaint to the OECD.

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Sugar Exports to Europe Drop After Peak Year

Cambodia’s sugar shipments to Europe fell by 41 percent last year, according to trade data from the European Union (E.U.), a significant drop for one of the country’s most controversial exports.

Dubbed “blood sugar” by the families that have lost their homes and farms to sugarcane plantations across the country, Cambodia in 2014 shipped 38,000 metric tons of the commodity to the E.U.—its main market—worth $17.4 million.

Last year’s total is a little over half as much sugar as Cambodia exported to the E.U. in 2013, but still the second most of any year since 2009, when Europe granted duty-free access to Cambodian goods under its Everything But Arms trade scheme for least developed countries.

Italy and Bulgaria bought up most of last year’s sugar exports. The rest went to the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain and Belgium.

Though sugar makes up a small fraction of what Cambodia exports to the E.U., it has arguably been the country’s most controversial commodity.

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Coke’s Zero Tolerance for Land Grabs Proves Difficult to Fulfill

Bottles of Coca-Cola are seen at the Safeway store in Wheaton Maryland

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Coca-Cola Co has made a good start in axing land grabs from its supply chain, but it must work harder in proving that its bottlers and sugar suppliers do not violate land rights, development experts told the company.

Coke declared two years ago that land grabbing is unacceptable, and as a major buyer of sugar pledged to help protect land rights of local communities, including evaluating its top 16 cane sugar-sourcing countries by 2020.

In the first of those reports released earlier this month, Coke said it found no evidence of land rights abuses by five sugar mills it buys from in Guatemala.

However, those findings raised questions at a World Bank conference on Land and Poverty, given Guatemala’s long and often violent history of land conflict and human rights abuses.

Karol Boudreaux, land expert at the Cloudburst Group consulting firm, said the report was too superficial, relying on the word of sugar mill operators without digging deeply into their land acquisition methods.

“How did the owners acquire title documents? Were communities consulted? Were they compensated for their land? Were women’s title considered?” Boudreaux said at the World Bank session on Tuesday.

“I cannot tell from the evidence that Coke presents,” she told Ed Potter, the company’s director of global workplace rights, who agreed to take her advice and improve the company’s review processes.

In Cambodia, Coke faced criticism for benefiting from massive land thefts orchestrated by government officials for agribusinesses, including one of Coke’s major sugar suppliers, said David Pred of the human rights group Inclusive Development International.

Thousands of Cambodians were violently displaced by police and military, who stole their crops, burned their homes and bulldozed their land for sugar companies, said Pred, managing director of the California-based organization.

“What we are talking about here is grand theft,” he said, adding that Coke failed to conduct serious due diligence on its supplier.
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The Guardian: European Union agrees to investigate Cambodian sugar industry

European Union agrees to investigate Cambodian sugar industry

Booming industry faces allegations of human rights abuses such as land grabs, forced displacement and child labour

(Kate Hodal – Phnom Penh, 10 December 2014) –  The European Union has agreed to investigate forced displacement claims in relation to Cambodia’s troubled sugar industry. The move could see thousands of villagers compensated for illegally confiscated land and loss of earnings.

The Clean Sugar Campaign – which has been calling on the EU to investigate its trade ties with Cambodia’s sugar industry since 2011 – called the development “a pivotal step towards justice for thousands of Cambodian people who have suffered enormously at the hands of the sugar industry”.

The joint EU-Cambodia scheme has already been approved by the Cambodian government and is intended to “ensure redress” and restore “pre-project living standards and income levels” for those affected, campaigners said.

The EU confirmed the scheme in a statement seen by the Phnom Penh Post, in which it said the aim was to “fund technical expertise to develop a mechanism to audit claims in relation to sugarcane plantations in Cambodia, and ensure the implementation of any remedial measures that are found necessary”.

Cambodia’s booming sugarcane industry – which benefits from a preferential EU trade scheme called the Everything But Arms treaty – is rife with allegations of human rights abuses, among them illegal land grabs, forced displacement and child labour. Human rights groups claim that at least two villages in three provinces were entirely destroyed and thousands of hectares of rice plantations and orchards confiscated to make way for sugar plantations, leaving up to 2,500 families without homes, land or food.

Guardian report last year into the Thai-owned KSL plantation – which exported sugar to the EU for the sugar multinational Tate & Lyle – investigated allegations of child labour and other abuses. Villagers also described being subjected to physical violence, having their homes and property destroyed, their land confiscated without their consent; they also claimed one person had been killed while land was being forcibly cleared.

Booming industry faces allegations of human rights abuses such as land grabs, forced displacement and child labour

(Kate Hodal – 10 December 2014, Phnom Penh) – Some 200 Cambodian families are currently involved in a lawsuit against Tate & Lyle, claiming the company knew, or should have known, of the allegations against KSL, and allege the sugar company should compensate them for the value of the sugar grown on the land they say still belongs to them.

Following the Guardian investigation into alleged abuses, the drinks corporations Coca-Cola and Pepsico agreed to a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding land grabbing in their supply chain, while the ethical sugar coalition Bonsucrosuspended Tate & Lyle for failing to respond to allegations of abuse related to KSL dealings. The sugar company later resigned from Bonsucro in June this year.

Commencement of Cambodian ‘blood sugar’ reparations process a crucial step towards justice

(December 7, 2014) – The Clean Sugar Campaign welcomes the commencement of a joint EU-Cambodia process to assess displacement claims pertaining to sugarcane plantations in Cambodia. This development represents a pivotal step towards justice for thousands of Cambodian people who have suffered enormously at the hands of the sugar industry.

The European Commission has announced a tender for the procurement of independent experts to design a process for identifying, assessing and redressing legitimate claims of displacement impacts and losses resulting from the development of sugarcane plantations in Cambodia. The objective of the assessment, which has been agreed to by an Inter-Ministerial Committee of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), is to “ensure redress for…compensation deficits” and “the restoration of pre-project living standards and income levels” for affected people.

The announcement came in response to the long-standing call by coalition members of the Clean Sugar Campaign for the EU to investigate companies benefiting from the Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trade scheme that are implicated in land-grabbing, forced evictions and other human rights abuses. The coalition has pressed for the withdrawal of the sugar industry’s trade preferences until affected communities are granted effective remedies, including the return of illegally acquired land and fair compensation for other losses. A comprehensive, independent assessment to determine and assess the value of specific household and communal losses has been a key demand of the campaign.

Following the release of the tender, Clean Sugar Campaign coalition members wrote to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini to welcome this long-awaited development and call upon the EU to establish clearly defined deadlines and benchmarks for the provision of redress to affected communities.

In order to ensure effective progress on the ground for affected people, the Clean Sugar Campaign urges the EU to tie the audit process to the withdrawal of trade preferences for sugarcane, under Article 19 of the Generalized System of Preferences regulation, if time-bound performance indicators are not met.

Read the full statement


Statement Regarding the Illegal Detention of Equitable Cambodia Staff

On Tuesday, 9 Sept. 2014, Cambodian authorities detained two employees of Equitable Cambodia (EC) without just cause. Ms. Meg Fukuzawa, a research consultant who has dual citizenship in the United States and Japan, and Mr. Lida Sok, a Cambodian research officer, had been in Oddar Meanchey province since last Monday to conduct field research on the human rights impacts of forced evictions resulting from the development of industrial sugarcane plantations. The plantations are owned by the Mitr Phol Group, one of Coca-Cola’s top three global suppliers. Ms. Fukuzawa and Mr. Sok were working to collect research data to provide to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, which is investigating Mitr Phol’s activities in Cambodia.

Around 4:30 p.m., four police vehicles attended Bos village where Ms. Fukuzawa and Mr. Sok had been conducting their research. In 2008, the rice fields of approximately 100 families in Bos village were seized to make way for sugarcane plantations.[1]

When officers approached the researchers, they immediately asked Ms. Fukuzawa and Mr. Sok to accompany them to the Oddar Meanchey provincial police station. The officers’ requests were denied, as by then, it was dark and the EC staff were concerned about traveling by motorcycle at night. An hour later, Long Sokun, the Deputy Police Chief of Oddar Meanchey, arrived at the village and asked to see Ms. Fukuzawa’s immigration documents. Ms. Fukuzawa did not have her passport in her immediate possession.
At approximately 8:30 p.m., a police vehicle attended Bos village and Ms. Fukuzawa and Mr. Sok were transported under duress to the provincial police station. The officers did not inform them of the reason for their detention, nor was an arrest warrant produced.

They were held in police custody and interrogated about their research activities for over three hours, after which Mr. Sok was released from police custody. However, he chose to remain with his colleague to act as her translator and to provide support while she remained in custody. At the police station, Ms. Fukuzawa attempted to show both Mr. Long Sokun and his assistant scanned copies of her Japanese and American passports, which were sent to Mr. Sok’s telephone. On both occasions, she was told that it was not necessary to provide such documents.

Police indicated to the researchers that they were asked to leave the village for their own safety because it was a remote area. Neither Ms. Fukuzawa nor Mr. Sok were concerned about their safety while undertaking their research at the village. The community members had treated the visitors with respect and hospitality. It was only after police arrived and detained them against their will that Ms. Fukuzawa and Mr. Sok felt their safety was at risk.

Ultimately, the authorities claimed that Ms. Fukuzawa was detained because she could not produce her original passport when questioned by the police in Oddar Meanchey. No charges were laid nor fines imposed.

Equitable Cambodia condemns the arbitrary detention of its employees, both in Oddar Meanchey and Phnom Penh. The absence of a passport upon request by police does not result in criminal sanctions. Moreover, neither individual was engaging in illegal activities. As such, there were no credible grounds to justify Ms. Fukuzawa and Mr. Sok’s detention in police custody, the former lasting nearly 24 hours. Without warrant or reasonable grounds to seek detention, police and immigration officers violated Ms. Fukuzawa and Mr. Sok’s constitutional right to not be arbitrarily detained and deprived them of their liberty without just cause.[2]

We the undersigned condemn the continued intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders in Cambodia. We call upon the competent authorities to investigate those responsible for ordering the illegal and unjust detention of Meg Fukuzawa and Lida Sok.

This statement is issued by: Equitable Cambodia, Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF), Building Community Voices (BCV), Community Peace-Building Network (CPN), The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), Inclusive Development International (IDI), Focus on the Global South, Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), The NGO Forum on Cambodia (NGOF), Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF), Independent Democracy of Independent Economy Association (IDEA), Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Social Action for Change (SAC), and Cambodia Youth Network (CYN).


[1]LICADHO, Bos/O’Bat Moan Village in Konkriel Commune, Samroang District, Oddur Meanchey Province (Briefing Paper) (Phnom Penh: LICADHO, 12 October 2009), online: <>.

[2]Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 1993, Article 38(3): The prosecution, arrest, police custody or detention of any person shall not be done, except in accordance with the law.

Statement in response to to Phnom Penh Sugar Company’s allegations against Equitable Cambodia Executive Director Eang Vuthy

On August 18, 2014, the Phnom Penh Sugar Co. Ltd., took out advertisements in several major Cambodian newspapers accusing Equitable Cambodia’s Executive Director, Mr. Eang Vuthy, of making false and misleading statements about Oknha Ly Yong Phat, and causing “irreparable damage” to the Senator’s reputation as well as that of his business, Phnom Penh Sugar.

However, during the press briefing, Eang Vuthy did not say anything to suggest that the Senator was currently involved in the operations of these sugar companies. Video footage from the event confirms this assertion.

At issue are statements allegedly made by Eang Vuthy during a press briefing on 13 August 2014 that link Ly Yong Phat to sugar concessions in Koh Kong and Oddar Meanchey provinces. In the advertisements, Phnom Penh Sugar claim that such “accusations” are “irresponsible and entirely without foundation.”

Read the full statement

Thai human rights body says plantation stole land

Thai Human Rights Body Says Plantations Stole Land
The Cambodia Daily,  By  | AUGUST 14, 2014

The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand on Wednesday corroborated claims that a Thai sugar company that supplied Coca-Cola has illegally taken land off of villagers in Oddar Meanchey province and violated their human rights, more than a year after the communities filed their complaint with the commission.

With the aid of local NGOs, the villagers lodged their complaint with the commission in May 2013, accusing three plantations owned by Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol of stealing their farms five years ago —in some cases burning and razing their homes. They accuse the company of shooting their livestock or holding them for ransom, and of using the local police and courts to beat, harass and sue them.

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SMH: ANZ says no to evicted Cambodian farmers


ANZ is resisting pressure to assist the hundreds of families who claim they been adversely affected.ANZ is resisting pressure to assist the hundreds of families who claim they been adversely affected. Photo: Ken Irwin

ANZ has ruled out helping hundreds of poor Cambodian families forcibly evicted from their land to make way for sugar-cane plantations that involved child labour and led to food shortages.

Fairfax Media this year revealed confidential audits that disclosed that ANZ’s Cambodian subsidiary, ANZ Royal Bank, had financed sugar plantations belonging to the Phnom Penh Sugar company owned by powerful Cambodian politician Ly Yong Phat.

Senator Phat’s company last month repaid its loan to ANZ Royal Bank but the affected farmers and villagers still want the bank to address their plight.

Dozens of farmers and villagers last week protested outside ANZ’s headquarters in Phnom Penh. The protest’s leaders met ANZ executives and asked for their help, arguing that the sugar plantations would not have gone ahead without the bank’s financial support.

ANZ executives have been told of families being forcibly removed from their homes, of food shortages, inadequate compensation, intimidation by military units and resettlement on unproductive land. A petition bearing the thumb prints of more than 300 affected villagers was presented to ANZ executives in the Cambodian capital this month.

But the bank, which last week announced an 8 per cent lift in its nine-month profit of $5.2 billion, is resisting pressure to assist the hundreds of families who claim they been adversely affected.

A spokesman for ANZ told Fairfax Media: “Relationships with the local community are a matter for PPS and it is not appropriate for ANZ to consider any compensation measures.

“ANZ is no longer a financier to PPS and it is no longer appropriate to have any discussions on the company’s business. Any issues would need to be raised with PPS directly.”

ANZ is a signatory to a global ethical banking code and has internal policies that require recipients of loans in developing countries ensure they have proper environmental, health and social management programs.

Protest leaders claim they were visited by Cambodian police over the weekend and threatened with violence if they continued their campaign against the bank.

The ANZ spokesman said he had no knowledge of the police involvement and that no one from the bank had asked police to intervene.

One villager visited by police over the weekend said they wanted to identify the “ringleaders” of the protest.

“One of the local authorities said, ‘If you go to Phnom Penh again be careful because you might be beaten to death’,” the villager said.

Another protester visited by police, Cheng Sopheap, said the families affected by the sugar plantations believed ANZ had a responsibility to help because it failed to ensure PPS acted in accordance with the bank’s ethical lending policies.

“Ly Yong Phat’s companies have bulldozed community houses and farm land, his company has destroyed rice fields. There was a forced eviction and children could not come to school,” Mr Sopheap said.

“The impact on the communities [is] because LYP’s companies got loans from ANZ bank.”

PPS company says it has properly compensated families, resettled them on new land and offered work in the plantations.

Senator Phat is one of Cambodia’s richest men and is part of the ruling political party.

The head of the Royal Group of companies, which ANZ partners in Cambodia, is tycoon Kith Meng.

Both Mr Meng and Senator Phat are close associates of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen.

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