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10 Jul 2023

Impact International

Cambodia: Tate & Lyle settle human rights abuses and land grabs associated with sugar production out of court

"Tate & Lyle settle out-of-court for human rights abuses with Koh Kong residents", 10 July 2023

An almost two-decade-long ordeal between 200 families in the Koh Kong province, Cambodia, local sugar production company, KSL Group and global conglomerate Tate & Lyle drew to a close in April this year as local families were compensated for land theft and human rights abuses dating back to 2006. 

The NGO Equitable Cambodia announced in April this year that families had reached an out-of-court agreement for an undisclosed financial payment. Further, 71 child labourers that were discovered at the plantation were also paid an undisclosed sum... 

In 2006, village land in Chikor Leu Commune, land was forcibly seized by the military for local companies to grow sugar and attract global buyers. Koh Kong Plantation Co. Ltd., Koh Kong Sugar Co. Ltd. and KSL Group were awarded concessions to the 19 100 hectares of private land in the province in August 2006. 

The military set fire to homes, and evicted some 4 000 villagers despite much of their land existing outside of the awarded concessions. Further, none of the discussed restitution payments were delivered to those evicted from their land. The military responded harshly to local activists opposing the land seizure, resulting in two gunshot wounds, the burning of homes, 60 buffalo and cows stolen or destroyed and one murdered activist.

In interviews with The Guardian, locals described how, without space to farm for themselves, they had little choice but to work on the plantation run by KSL. The conditions were dire, earning as little as 79p a day cutting around 1 000 stems of sugar cane with children as young as nine among those on the plantations. Despite such serious allegations, in 2009, KSL won a contract to supply sugar to London-based food and beverage giant Tate & Lyle, who sourced their sugar from these plantations from 2011-2013. 

Legal disputes have loomed over the operation almost since its inception. Residents in February 2007 looked to sue Koh Kong Plantation and Koh Kong Sugar, though they were nullified with no success. Then in 2013, two high-profile law firms Jones Day and Rees Broome sued Tate & Lyle on behalf of the 200 families in the UK’s high court, declaring that they should have investigated the allegations against their supplier before continuing...