Auditors from the Coca-Cola Company visited Oddar Meanchey province on Friday to investigate allegations of land grabbing against sugar plantations that supply the global drinks giant, but called off a community meeting because of a heavy police presence, an NGO said Sunday.
Chun Bora of the Children’s Development Association said he met with the visiting Coca-Cola representatives at his NGO’s offices in Samraong City on Friday to brief them about the allegations of land-grabbing hundreds of local families have leveled against three plantations owned by one of Coca-Cola’s main sugar supplies, Thailands Mitr Phol.
Coca-Cola declared “zero tolerance” for land grabbing by its sugar suppliers in November and announced the launch of a worldwide audit of those supplies.
“The company [Coca-Cola] did not dare to guarantee it would find a solution, but they promised to make an effort to find a solution for the villagers because they don’t want to hear that their company violates human rights,” Mr. Bora said.
“We asked the company’s representatives to help the villagers because they lost their farms and have been forced to find work in Thailand.”
But when the visitors tried to meet privately with affected villagers in Konkriel commune, they were accompanied by about 30 uninvited local police and ultimately called off a community meeting, Mr. Bora said.
“The company representatives told us they planned to meet the affected villagers to ask them about the facts, but they canceled and returned to Phnom Penh on Saturday because authorities and police traveled behind them,” he said.
Mao Samnang, Konkriel commune police chief, said a few of his officers had accompanied the visitors for their own safety.
“We sent four police only to provide security for the guests because we were worried about their safety,” he said.
NGOs say plantations’ employees have told them that CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat also has a stake in the plantations, though representatives for the senator deny it.
Konkriel villager Tmin Ti said he and two fellow representatives still managed to meet with the Coca-Cola auditors on Friday, but many others were frustrated that their meetings had been canceled.
“The other villagers are not happy because they could not give their own opinions to the company so they will know the problems we face,” he said. “We have little hope the company can find a solution for us.”