Representatives for the 200 Cambodian families suing U.K. sugar firm Tate & Lyle for allegedly profiting off of their stolen land say they have rejected the firm’s latest offer to settle the dispute and are looking forward to their first court date, set for October.
The families are among the more than 400 who accuse a pair of majority-Thai-owned sugar plantations in Koh Kong province of illegally seizing their farms starting in 2006. They sued Tate & Lyle in a London court in March 2013, arguing that the U.K. firm owed them compensation for profiting off the millions of dollars worth of sugar it has bought from the Thai owner, Khon Kaen Sugar.
Efforts to reach an out-of-court deal have continued after talks appeared to founder in July.
On Monday, however, a representative for the families suing Tate & Lyle said the latest offer of new land and money had also been rejected.
“The Thai company that planted sugar on our land is offering land in another area about three or four kilometers away from the plantation, but the exact location has not been revealed,” said Teng Kao, who claims he lost his 14.5-hectare mango and cashew farm to the plantations in 2006.
“Our lawyer also told us that Tate & Lyle, through its lawyer in London, is also offering $305,000 to the 200 families in return for us dropping the complaint,” he said. “We have refused and we want the court to proceed with the case.”
He said the trial had been scheduled for October, but did not know the exact day.
Yin Chheav, another representative for the families, said they were still willing to entertain a better offer but he believed that a trial was the surest way for the families to secure the compensation they deserved.
“I am really happy the court in England has set the date to hear our case against Tate & Lyle,” he said. “We have lost our farms and we have lost our jobs, and the company needs to be responsible for turning poor villagers into even poorer villagers.”
A source familiar with the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Khon Kaen had offered the families replacement farms on a different part of their land equal to what the families lost, a figure the families put at 1,364 hectares.
“The government, through the involvement of KSL [Khon Kaen], had agreed to carve out an equivalent amount of land from the Koh Kong concessions to provide substitute plots for the villagers,” the source said. “T&L [Tate & Lyle] has indicated that its primary concern was its own reputation and that it was motivated to force KSL to respond only because of its ‘good’ reputation.”
That reputation has taken a hit since the dispute arose.
The families have launched a boycott campaign against what they call the “blood sugar” sold by Tate & Lyle and other firms buying from plantations in Cambodia accused of stealing land.
Last year, an international group that promotes the ethical sourcing of sugar for the food and energy industries, Bonsucro, suspended Tate & Lyle’s membership for failing to answer questions about the dispute in Koh Kong.
Also last year, Tate & Lyle threatened to sue U.K. newspaper The Guardian over a story alleging child labor on the plantations but never followed through and later said it would investigate the claims.
Representatives for Khon Kaen and the plantations could not be reached Monday. A spokesman for Tate & Lyle did not reply to a request for comment.
Tate & Lyle has denied any responsibility for the allegations the families have leveled against the plantations. It says a third-party audit of Khon Kaen cleared the company before they started doing business, but it has refused to share a copy of the report.
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