International Sugar Companies Implicated in Cambodian Land-Grabbing

On Eve Of Key Trial In Cambodian Court, Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission Finds Evidence Of Human Rights Violations While Industry Sugar Association Hears Complaint Against U.K.’s Tate & Lyle Sugars Against Backdrop of Global Sugar Boycott.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia — More than five years after three villages and hundreds of farmers in Koh Kong Province, Cambodia had their lands illegally confiscated to make way for a major international sugar plantation connected to leading Thai, U.K, U.S., and Taiwanese corporations, the Koh Kong Provincial Court of First Instance will finally hear arguments on July 26, 2012. The long-running dispute pits residents of Chikor Leu commune’s villages of Trapeang Kandol, Chhouk and Chikor of Koh Kong’s Srae Ambel District against the companies, Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co., Ltd. (KKS) and Koh Kong Sugar Plantation Co., Ltd. (KKP) over an Economic Land Concession (ELC), that resulted in wide-spread displacement, severe livelihood impacts, and violent human rights violations; two-hundred and twenty villages from the affected communities are plaintiffs in the case, all of whom are appearing before the court on the hearing date.

Civil society organizations in Cambodia released a statement on the legal case this week affirming their support for the impacted communities.

The two implicated companies, KKP and KKS are 70% owned by leading Thai corporation Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Public Company Limited (KSL) which exercises effective control over operations in Cambodia and receives 100% of the processed sugar from the two Cambodian land concessions. Taiwanese Ve Wong Corporation holds 30% of both subsidiary companies, while powerful Cambodian Senator Ly Yong Phat formerly held shares in both subsidiary companies before allegedly relinquishing these stake-holdings in 2010. The sugar produced in Cambodia is then sold to U.K.’s Tate & Lyle Sugars, a subsidiary of Tate & Lyle that was recently acquired by U.S. American Sugar Refinery Company.

The dispute in Srae Ambel District began when the two Thai companies, KKS and KKP were granted ELC’s of 19,100 hectares in Srae Ambel District by the Government of Cambodia in violation of the Land Law 2001, sub-decree on Economic Land Concession 2005, and an agreement made between the companies and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Under Cambodia law, ELC’s cannot be granted in excess of 10,000 hectares, and in a blatant attempt to circumvent this requirement, KKS and KKP were incorporated separately despite serving a single business interest and essentially operating as one, and were each granted concessions just under 10,000 hectares. No consultations with the farming communities were conducted and no compensation in advance was made.

The dispute has now reached Thailand, where the affected communities through their lawyers, the Community Legal Education Center of Cambodia, filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) on 6 January 2010 alleging that KSL, through Cambodian subsidiaries KKP and KKS, obtained land concessions in Koh Kong Province, Cambodia in violation of Cambodian laws on economic land concessions and of human rights laws and standards. The complainants based its claim for jurisdiction on KSL’s ownership of KKP and KKS, its control over operations in Cambodia, and its duty to respect human rights wherever it operates. In what the complainants and their supporters consider as a success in transboundary human rights promotion and protection, the Thai NHRC accepted the complaint as case no. 58/2553. Just today, the NHRC released a statement finding evidence that KSL had violated the human rights of the impacted communities through their ELC. The Commission has completed its investigation and is now in the process of drafting the final report. In its statement today (click here for English translation), it confirmed its commitment “to ensure that communities and their natural resources remain protected, and that various human rights principles are applied in meeting the economic, social and environmental pillars for fairness and sustainable development.”

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