UK sugar company accused of profiting from land-grabbing;
Cambodian villagers pursue lawsuit in UK after parent company American Sugar
Refining pulls out of U.S. mediation process
JULY 17, 2013 - Yesterday the board of Bonsucro, a
responsible sugar initiative, announced its decision to suspend Tate & Lyle
Sugars (TLS) over complaints that the UK sugar giant profits from land-grabbing
by buying sugar from a plantation in Koh Kong, Cambodia, that was illegally
taken from local villagers. Coming on the heels of complaints to the U.S.
Government and the European Commission, as well as a lawsuit in the UK, this
development increases the pressure on TLS to provide justice to the affected
The Koh Kong plantation land was forcibly and in some cases
violently confiscated from over 450 families in 2006 and given to
politically-connected companies controlled by Khon Kaen Sugar Ltd., a Thai
sugar producer, which has an exclusive sales contract with TLS. The land grab
has been documented by numerous independent experts, including a U.N. office in
Cambodia. "This land meant everything to these families, who have been
struggling to survive without their source of food, income, and security," said
Sorphonneary Ny, a lawyer with the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) who
represents the villagers in Cambodian court and supports the U.K. litigation. "They will continue to pursue their rights in all available forums."
Bonsucro works with its members to improve the
sustainability and environmental impacts of sugarcane production. CLEC and
Equitable Cambodia (EC) filed the complaint with Bonsucro two years ago. The
Board's decision came after TLS declined to cooperate in the complaint
resolution process, failed to provide information, and ignored a request to
review compensation that has supposedly been paid to some of the Cambodian
landowners. "We wish that Tate & Lyle had cooperated to correct this
injustice, but we are pleased that the board acted to uphold the integrity of
Bonsucro and its Code of Conduct," said Eang Vuthy, EC's Executive Director.
TLS's parent, American Sugar Refining (ASR), also decided
not to cooperate in a dispute resolution process that the villagers launched
last year with a U.S. State Department office that promotes the OECD Guidelines
for Multinational Enterprises, an international code of corporate conduct.
While the office found the villagers' complaint to be "substantiated" and
offered to mediate, ASR pulled out of the process when the villagers refused to
drop their lawsuit against TLS. The State Department's Final Statement in the
dispute resolution process, issued in June, calls on ASR to "conduct a
corporate human rights policy review process."
Declining to engage has not halted TLS's legal worries,
however. The villagers' lawsuit in the U.K. courts against TLS is moving forward
after a preliminary attempt at mediation failed on July 5. The lawsuit seeks
the value of the sugar produced on the communities' land.?
"Every time the communities have tried to engage with Tate
& Lyle and ASR, their efforts have been rebuffed," said Jonathan Kaufman,
an ERI attorney. "The company could be reinstated to Bonsucro if it gave the
villagers restitution or fair compensation. Otherwise, it will be up to the
British courts to decide whether Western companies can profit from land theft
The villagers and their supporters have sought
dialogue with the companies and have brought their case to the Cambodian and
U.K. courts, a European Union investigative body, the U.N. High Commissioner
for Human Rights, and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.