Sugar Firm Offers Defense After Call for Probe of EU Trade Links

The director of a CPP senator’s sugar plantation accused of stealing land from hundreds of families said Wednesday that most locals were happy with the new jobs the plantation has generated, a week after a visiting European Union parliamentarian renewed calls for an investigation of rights abuses by companies ex­porting to Europe.

Seng Nhak, the managing director of Senator Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar plantation in Kompong Speu province, defended the company’s work after a visit to the area by E.U. Parliament member Patrice Tirolien. Before leaving Cambodia on Friday, Mr. Tirolien said he would press the European Commission to investigate the E.U.’s free-trade scheme for developing countries over long-running allegations that Cam­bodian sugar plantations are taking advantage of the deal are violating the rights of hundreds of local families. 

Mr. Nhak, who is also Mr. Yong Phat’s son-in-law, said his plantation produces between 80,000 and 120,000 tons of sugar a year and that only about 20 percent of it reaches Europe.

“Many villagers are satisfied that there are jobs and a community where none existed before,” he said. “But there are some who say they have issues and as a company we will be seeking to learn more about those issues so that we can address them properly.”

Mr. Nhak said he welcomed an “objective look” at the company’s work. But rather than an E.U. investigation, which local rights groups and the E.U. Parliament have called for, he preferred to keep any probe in the plantation’s hands.

“In the company’s view, this is the most logical step,” he said.

Phnom Penh Sugar, and another plantation adjacent to it registered to Mr. Yong Phat’s wife, Kim Heang, are accused of encroaching on the farms, grazing land and community forests of more than 1,500 families across 15 villages since 2010. While some of them have received $25 to $500 in compensation, rights groups say 200 families had yet to receive anything as of last month.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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