Palm Oil Plantation Accused of Withholding Workers’ Pay

More than 20 families working on a controversial palm oil plantation in Ratanakkiri province owned by the Hoang Anh Lumphat company have filed a complaint with rights group Adhoc accusing the owners of improperly withholding one month’s pay.

Lor Sophal said he and another 22 families, or a total of 42 workers, were promised they would be paid at the end of every month when they started cutting grass around the plantation’s palms on January 19, but had not been paid a single riel by the time they stopped working on Monday and filed the complaint.

“We filed the complaint with Adhoc so that it will send the information to the provincial authorities so that they push the company to pay us,” he said.

Mr. Sophal said they were promised 300 riel per palm tree and that his family of four should have earned about 1 million riel (about $250) for a month’s work.

Adhoc provincial coordinator Mean Promony said he visited the work site and saw that the grass had indeed been cut around the trees as per the company’s instructions.

“We saw that the workers did their job following the company’s standards,” he said. “We are now preparing a complaint…and will send it to the provincial labor department asking for intervention and to push the company to pay them.”

Duch Chanto, the provincial labor department’s deputy director, said he had heard of the dispute from the provincial social affairs department and planned to meet with the company by early next week.

The plantation’s manager, Thoeun Leak, said the families were not paid because they did not do a good job clearing the grass.

“We did not pay them because they did not follow properly the company’s standards,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Huang Anh Lumphat has repeatedly been accused by local villagers and rights groups of illegal logging both inside and outside of its plantation, which sits inside the nominally protected Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.

Last month the compliance office of the International Finance Corporation accepted a complaint from several Ratanakkiri families taking issue with the IFC’s multi-million dollar investment in Vietnamese rubber company Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), believed to be the parent company of Hoang Anh Lumphat. The families accuse HAGL’s Cambodian plantations of stealing their land.

HAGL denies having any stake in Hoang Anh Lumphat. But Mr. Chanto on Tuesday identified Hoang Anh Lumphat as an HAGL subsidiary.

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