Thai Company’s Return to Sugar Group Challenged by NGOs

Three local NGOs have filed a com­plaint with international sug­ar industry group Bonsucro for re­admitting Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol even though thousands of fam­ilies forced off the company’s for­mer plantations in Oddar Mean­chey province have yet to be fully compensated.

Membership in the group confers a sort of stamp of approval in­dicating that a company practices sus­tainable sugar sourcing. Bon­sucro readmitted Mitr Phol Group (MPG) late last year after the company resigned from the group in 2012, before Bonsucro could investigate a complaint made the previous year regarding human rights vi­olations on MPG’s three sugarcane plantations in the northwest province.

Objecting to Mitr Phol’s return, Licadho, Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development Interna­tional filed a new complaint with Bon­sucro on Friday.

“Based on these three illegal [plan­tations], MPG committed nu­merous, grave violations of Bon­sucro’s objectives and principles, Cambodian law and its international human rights responsibilities,” they write. “In plain terms, MPG ser­iously deepened the impoverishment and suffering of a large number of already very poor people, and now MPG has a responsibility to do everything within its power to remedy the damage it caused.”

In a letter accompanying the com­plaint, David Pred, the managing director of Inclusive Develop­ment, said Bonsucro had prom­ised in 2012 that Mitr Phol would not regain its membership with­out going through the group’s for­mal complaints process.

“Unless Bonsucro is ready to se­riously address this case and use its lev­erage to deliver meaningful re­dress to the long suffering families in Oddar Meanchey whom Mitr Phol robbed, it will be utterly discredited as a sugarcane certification body,” he writes.

Bonsucro did not reply to a re­quest for comment about the new complaint.

Mitr Phol also did not reply to a request for comment, but has previously denied any wrongdoing. In late 2014, the company decided to abandon all three of its Cambodian plantations after having cleared the land but grown almost no sugarcane. At the time, local officials said the company pulled out because of the bad press the plantations were generating.

Rights groups accuse Mitr Phol of forcing some 2,000 families off their farms and out of their homes since 2008, often with the help of lo­cal authorities who burned down their houses and threw some people in jail for trying to resist. Last year, after a lengthy investigation, the National Human Rights Com­mission of Thailand corroborated the claims.

The evicted families say they should get their land back now that Mitr Phol has pulled out.

“The sugar company left a long time ago, but the villagers whose farms and homes were stolen by the company have not been able to get their land back. Now it’s just em­p­ty, covered with growing grass,” said Huoy Mai, who lost land to the company. “Our farms were lost and our homes were burn­ed down in 2009, so it’s time to give us back the land.”

She and about 200 other families filed a formal request for the return of their land with authorities in Sam­raong City last week. Deputy gov­ernor Ty Kamol said many of the evictees had already been compensated and that authorities were as­sessing claims from the rest.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

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