An international group that promotes the ethical sourcing of sugar for the food and energy industries has suspended the membership of U.K. sugar giant Tate & Lyle for failing to answer complaints that it was buying from Cambodian plantations accused of stealing land from local farmers.
London-based Bonsucro, whose members include global brands such as Coca-Cola and BP, announced the July 8 decision of its board to suspend Tate & Lyle on Tuesday evening.
“[Tate & Lyle] has not, in the view of the board, demonstrated adequate progress within a reasonable timescale towards meeting the requirements of the board to provide information regarding a complaint made against the company, nor adequately explained why these requirements could not be met,” it said in a statement.
Bonsucro said the suspension would hold until Tate & Lyle conducted a third party review both of compensation for the evicted families and of the plantations’ compliance with Tate & Lyle’s code of conduct, or until it reached “a resolution of the dispute to both parties’ satisfaction.”
Although the statement points out that the board has not taken a position on the allegations themselves, it does prevent Tate & Lyle from applying for full certification with Bonsucro.
Tate & Lyle signed a five-year deal to buy sugar from Thai firm KSL’s Cambodian plantations in 2009 and has shipped 48 million kg, worth more than $32 million, back to the U.K. since.
Two local NGOs, Equitable Cambodia and the Community Legal Education Center, filed the complaint with Bonsucro two years ago, accusing Tate & Lyle of wrongfully profiting off sugar grown on land in Koh Kong province that hundreds of families have been illegally, and sometimes violently, evicted from since 2006.
Tate & Lyle declined to comment on the suspension. American Sugar Holdings, which bought the firm in 2010, could not immediately be reached.
Kong Song, one of the farmers who lost land to the plantations, welcomed Bonsucro’s decision.
“I am so happy to hear about it because it is a good move that proves that our terrible suffering because of Tate & Lyle has been heard by international organizations,” he said. “We just want every company to be responsible for the social and environmental impacts of their investment projects. The company cannot exploit and grab our land to get rich and ignore the people who are suffering.”
Mark Moorstein, a lawyer for U.S. law firm Rees Broome, who has helped craft the families’ legal strategy against Tate & Lyle, said the suspension might help push the firm into finally offering the families a fair deal.
“The Bonsucro decision is important because it recognizes that T&L is not meeting its own industry’s standards,” he said in an email. “T&L has repeatedly indicated that it is a good corporate citizen, yet it has stonewalled any scrutiny of its Cambodian practices and its contribution to the forces that promote land grabbing in Koh Kong province.
“I think the Bonsucro decision hopefully will force the officers, and perhaps more importantly, the shareholders of T&L to question the conduct of T&L and perhaps seek some resolution of the problem.”
Two hundred of the affected families are currently suing Tate & Lyle in the U.K. through the High Court of Justice demanding millions in compensation.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)