Koh Kong sugar plantation lawsuits (re Cambodia)
Snapshot: In 2007, Cambodian villagers filed a complaint against Koh Kong Plantation and Sugar Industry in Koh Kong Provincial Court, seeking cancellation of economic concessions granted to the sugar companies. The villagers allege they were violently evicted from their lands to make room for the sugar plantation. In 2013, in response to failed negotiations in Cambodia, 200 villagers filed a complaint in England against Tate & Lyle, who are supplied by the Koh Kong Sugar Companies. They maintain they are the legal owners of the land on which the plantation sits. Tate & Lyle maintain the land is rightfully theirs and they are unaware of the forceful eviction. The lawsuit is ongoing.
In August 2006, the Cambodian Government granted economic concessions in Koh Kong Province to two Cambodian sugar companies (Koh Kong Plantation and Koh Kong Sugar Industry), both jointly owned by the Thai company Khon Kaen Sugar Industry, Taiwanese Ve Wong Corporation and Cambodian Senator Ly Yong Phat. About 4000 Koh Kong villagers claim that they were violently evicted from their lands and relocated involuntarily to make room for a sugar plantation run by the Koh Kong companies. The villagers claim that they were never consulted prior to the grant of the concessions and that the land transfer is illegal. The Koh Kong companies entered into a five-year contract with the UK-headquartered company Tate & Lyle for sale of sugar from these plantations in 2009.
In February 2007, the villagers filed a complaint against Koh Kong Plantation and Koh Kong Sugar Industry in Koh Kong Provincial Court, seeking cancellation of the concession contract. In September 2012, a judge ruled that the court did not have the power to hear land disputes and transferred the case to the Cadastral Commission. Following this decision, villagers held talks with the Ministry of Justice to have the case sent back to the court on the grounds that their claim is about the legality of the concession rather than land ownership. To date neither the Ministry nor the Cadastral Commission has taken action. In June 2015, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand released a report in which it recognises that the human rights violations had occurred at the site of the sugar plantation.
In March 2013, 200 villagers filed a complaint in England against Tate & Lyle and T&L Sugars Limited (a subsidiary of American Sugar Refining). The plaintiffs maintain that they remain the legal owners of the land on which the Koh Kong companies grew sugar. Therefore, they claim that under Cambodian law they are the rightful owners of the crops grown on their land. The villagers are claiming compensation for the profit from selling the sugar. The defendants argue that they do not have knowledge of the facts asserted by the plaintiffs and seek to be declared the rightful owners of the sugar purchased from the Koh Kong companies. Following drawn out negotiations, the 200 villagers claim they were led to believe Tate & Lyle would provide significant compensation for the families.
In 2021, Tate & Lyle announced it would not pay compensation to the plaintiffs, but would continue to pressure the supplier KSL to ensure compensation is provided for the affected families.
- “Private property, public greed in Cambodia”, Joel Brinkley, Politico [USA], 6 May 2013
- “Cambodia: Tate & Lyle defends land deal”, Sugaronline, 17 Apr 2013
- “Cambodia farmers launch action against Tate & Lyle”, Rob Davies, This is Money [UK], 12 Apr 2013
- "Cambodia Clean Sugar" campaign - company responses & non-responses" , compiled by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Jul-Oct 2012
- Cambodian Center for Human Rights: CCHR welcomes ground-breaking proceedings initiated in the courts of England and Wales against two subsidiaries of UK-based Tate & Lyle plc on behalf of 200 displaced Cambodian villagers, 11 Apr 2013
- Jones Day [UK counsel for villagers]: Cambodian villagers defend their land rights, Oct 2011
Song Mao & Others, and, Tate and Lyle Industry Limited and T&L Sugars Limited – before the English High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Commercial Court
- [PDF] Defence and Counterclaim of the First and Second Defendants, 2 May 2013
- [PDF] Particulars of Claim, 28 Mar 2013 [initial court filing of Cambodian villagers]
National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
- English translation (unofficial) of Findings Report regarding Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Public Company Limited, 10 Mar 2015
- Findings Report regarding Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Public Company Limited, 10 Mar 2015 [official version, in Thai]