Summary

In the mid-2000s in southwestern Cambodia, a violent land grab by sugar companies pushed 500 families off of their land, violating their rights to life, livelihoods and self-determination. In response, EarthRights and Cambodian CSO Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) worked with the affected communities in Koh Kong to bring a landmark case to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT). While companies from the U.K., the U.S. and Cambodia are also responsible for crimes in Koh Kong, the NHRCT case alleged that Thai corporation Khon Kaen Sugar Ltd. violated both Cambodian and international law. This was the first transboundary case accepted by the NHRCT.

EarthRights has also collaborated with the affected communities to pursue justice through the follwing mechanisms: Bonsucro, a sugar cane industry initiative for responsible and sustainable growing; the U.S. National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises; and the United Kingdom court system.

Villagers impacted by the Koh Kong project
Koh Kong Sugar Industry and Koh Kong Plantation
Tate & Lyle Sugars, a main buyer of sugar from the Koh Kong companies
American Sugar Refineries, Inc., which markets Domino, C&H, and Redpath sugars and now owns Tate & Lyle’s sugar operations
Thai corporation Khon Kaen Sugar Ltd.
Koh Kong Sugar Industry and Koh Kong Plantation
Tate & Lyle Sugars, a main buyer of sugar from the Koh Kong companies
American Sugar Refineries, Inc., which markets Domino, C&H, and Redpath sugars and now owns Tate & Lyle’s sugar operations
Thai corporation Khon Kaen Sugar Ltd.
Community Legal Education Centre

Timeline

2006

The Cambodian government illegally granted nearly 10,000 hectares of land to two companies, Koh Kong Sugar Industry and Koh Kong Plantation, a joint Thai, Cambodian and Taiwanese venture, to develop sugar plantations and refineries. The Koh Kong sugar companies and local authorities expelled almost 500 families from their land in the villages of Chikor, Chhuk and Trapeng Kendal. In some cases, company and government security personnel shot and beat local residents during these relocations and evictions. These land grabs have taken away villagers’ livelihoods and property, threatening their access to food and way of life.

2007

With the assistance of the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), the villagers filed civil and criminal complaints against the companies in the Koh Kong Provincial Court, calling for a cancellation of the land concession. The communities also called for the court to issue an injunction to stop the companies from clearing anymore land. This case soon stalled.

The U.N. Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also issued a report on economic land concessions and human rights in Cambodia.

2009

The Koh Kong companies signed a contract to sell sugar to the U.K.-headquartered company Tate & Lyle Sugars.

2010

In January, Villagers from the affected communities, EarthRights and CLEC filed a complaint with the NHRCT, alleging that the Thai corporation Khon Kaen Sugar Ltd., through Cambodian subsidiaries, obtained economic land concessions in violation of Cambodian laws and international human rights standards. Khon Kaen Sugar received all of the sugar from the Koh Kong plantations and owned 70 percent of the Koh Kong companies. In August, the Thai NHRC admitted a supplemental complaint from CLEC, heard submissions from partner NGOs and called on representatives of KSL to appear before the Commission.

In September, the European sugar operations of Tate & Lyle were acquired by American Sugar Refineries, Inc. (ASR), which markets Domino, C&H, and Redpath sugars. This acquisition included Tate & Lyle’s contract with the Koh Kong companies.

2011

CLEC filed a complaint against Tate & Lyle over crimes in Koh Kong with Bonsucro, a sugar cane industry initiative for responsible and sustainable sugar growing.

2012

In July, the Subcommittee on Civil and Political Rights for the NHRCT released a statement on its findings. The Subcommittee identified breaches of human rights, including the rights to life and self-determination, in the case of the Koh Kong plantations. It found that Khon Kaen Sugar was involved in these abuses and that the Commission had jurisdiction to rule in this case. The Provincial Court of Koh Kong also agreed to hear the case brought by CLEC and the communities. EarthRights and a coalition of CSOs issued a statement in response.

In September, a judge ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction over land disputes and transferred the case to another branch of the Cambodian legal system. The communities disputed this decision, insisting that their complaint related to the legality of the original land grant, rather than land ownership. Domestic legal strategies stalled at this point.

In October, EarthRights worked with the Koh Kong villagers to file a complaint against ASR with the U.S. National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises.

2013

In March, the communities filed a lawsuit in the U.K. against Tate & Lyle with pro bono law firm Jones Day, claiming the right to the sugar produced from their land. This lawsuit is still ongoing.

In June, the U.S. NCP for the OECD issued a Final Statement regarding the communities’ complaint. ASR had withdrawn from all mediation because the communities refused to withdraw their U.K. lawsuit against Tate & Lyle. The Final Statement did conclude that the claims of human rights abuses were “substantiated,” and called on ASR to develop a human rights policy.

The Koh Kong communities also filed a complaint against Tate & Lyle with Bonsucro, a socially-responsible sugar industry effort.

In July, Bonsucro suspended the company after they declined to cooperate in the complaint resolution process. The company refused to allow an investigation into any allegations, including those of child labor on Koh Kong plantations, and ignored a request to review compensation that has supposedly been paid to some of the Cambodian landowners.

2015

In March, the final report by the NHRCT recognized the human rights violations at the Koh Kong plantation. It stated that this land grab violated the local population’s rights to life and self-determination, including their right to manage and benefit from natural resources and the right to development. This was the first trans-boundary case accepted by the NHRCT, setting a legal precedent on the Commission’s jurisdiction. The report found that KSL is responsible for human rights violations due to its decision to receive and benefit from the land concession that resulted in these violations, even if the company did not itself commit the abuses.

Documents

National Human Rights Commission Findings on Koh Kong
Complaint Under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
Koh Kong Sugar Plantation
Final Statement for NCP for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
Thai National Human Rights Commission Findings on Koh Kong Land Concessions

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