The Sugar Case

The Sugar Case

Sugarcane Industry in Cambodia

In the past decade, there has been a surge in forced displacement resulting from land concessions granted by the Cambodian government for industrial sugar plantations in Cambodia. Fueled by a European Union trade scheme called the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative, which enables Cambodia-based companies to export sugar to the EU tax-free, companies developed sugar plantations to produce raw sugar for export to the EU. These sugar plantations were developed on “economic land concesssions (ELCs)” - vast quantities of land leased by the Cambodian government to private investors for large-scale agroindustry. However, these land concesssions often overlap with the private land of farmers and natural resources, which are vital to the livelihoods of rural communities. The development of industrial sugar plantations has thus been accompanied by widespread forced evictions and other human rights violations of poor, vulnerable communities in Cambodia.

The loss of land due to the sugar industry has been disastrous for the Khmer and Indigenous Cambodian farming communities who rely on access to land and natural resources in order to support their families and communities. Attempts to relocate local villagers or to compensate them for land loss have been wholly inappropriate and insufficient; proposed relocation sites are located on non-arable land, and compensation offered inadequate or no compensation is offered at all.

Equitable Cambodia (EC) has played a key role in supporting communities in Kampong Speu, Oddar Meanchey, and Koh Kong provinces whose land was grabbed for industrial sugar plantations. EC continues to support these communities through legal trainings, which enable them to defend their rights, advocacy campaigns, and by assisting them with complaints to international grievance mechanisms to seek proper redress.

EC is one of the founders of the coordinated advocacy campaign known as the Clean Sugar Campaign, created to raise awareness among relevant stakeholders and the wider public about the rights abuses occurring due to land granted for industrial sugarcane plantations. EC facilitates quarterly Sugar Justice Network meetings, a forum for affected villagers from 4 provinces (Kampong Speu, Oddar Meanchey, Koh Kong and Preah Vihear) to come together to discuss ongoing problems, develop advocacy strategies, and provide updates about any progress that has been made towards finding acceptable solutions.

Details on the cases in Kampong Speu, Oddar Meanchey, and Koh Kong and major actions EC has undertaken to support affected community members follow below. More information can also be found on the Clean Sugar Campaign Website.



In 2010, side-by-side Economic Land Concessions in Oral and Thpong Districts, Kampong Speu province were awarded to Phnom Penh Sugar Ltd and Kampong Speu Sugar Ltd, companies owned by Cambodian business tycoon and ruling party senator, Ly Yong Phat and his wife. The two companies were created in order to get around legislation restricting grants of land to 10,000 hectares per company. Today the concessions operate as one piece of land of over 18,000 hectares. An initial assessment of affected villagers indicated at least 1100 families lost a majority of or all of their farming land which they rely on to survive.

Complaint to the OECD against ANZ Bank

In 2014, EC and partners found out that ANZ Royal Bank had provided financing to Phnom Penh Sugar Company. ANZ Royal is a controlled entity of the third largest bank in Australia, the Australia and New Zealand Bank Group Ltd. (ANZ). The story of ANZ’s involvement in the controversial sugar company was reported in Australia’s The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers.

EC and its partner Inclusive Development International (IDI) subsequently lodged a complaint against ANZ under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises with the Australian National Contact Point. The complaint was sent on behalf of over 600 families whose land was taken for Phnom Penh Sugar’s sugar plantation. Detailed in the complaint are facts on widespread human rights violations, including forced evictions, land seizures backed by the military, destruction of property and farm crops, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of villagers as well as use of child labor. The complaint states ANZ contributed to and profited from Phnom Penh Sugar’s illegal abuses and breached its responsibilities under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The complaint is currently under review by the Australian national contact point.



In 2008, three concessions were granted to companies with links to the Thai sugar company Mitr Phol. Mitr Pohl is one of Coca Cola’s top three global suppliers of sugar. The three concessions totaling 19,700 hectares exceeded the legal limit of 10,000 hectares for land concesssions in Cambodia. Numerous other factors indicated impropriety during the process of the awarding the land concession, including a retroactive reclassification of the land to State Private Land in 2013 in order to try to legalize the concession, 4 years after the land was granted.

Evictions started in 2008, displacing at least 600 households from their farmland, and Community Forestry area. The most notorious evictions took place at O’Bat Moan village/Bos village where 154 houses were forcibly demolished in 2008, and homes belonging to approximately 118 families were burned and bulldozed in 2009 by a contingent of approximately 150 police, military police, and hired demolition workers. Royal Cambodian Armed Force troops set up roadblocks at the entrances to the village, barring human rights workers and the media from entering the village to observe the evictions. Women and children fled to the local pagoda, while the men fled to the forest out of fear of arrest. Villagers were never allowed to return to their homes.

As a result of losing farmland, access to natural resources, and for one village, their homes and residential land, villagers continue to struggle to sustain the livelihoods of their families. Many affected households have been forced to send family members to work across the border in Thailand.


Complaint to Bonsucro

In 2011 EC and its partners International Development International (IDI) and LICADHO lodged a complaint on behalf of affected communities with Bonsucro (then known as the Better Sugarcane Initiative) an industry association body, of which Mitr Pohl was a member. The complaint was accepted  by Bonsucro’s Complaints and Grievances Committee (CGC), however, Mitr Pohl withdrew its membership from Bonsucro in July 2011 instead of engaging in the complaints resolution process.

Mitr Pohl rejoined Bonsucro as a member in June 2015, without reengaging in the complaints resolution process. This is despite a written commitment from the chair of the Complaints and Grievances Committee at the time, that reengagement in the complaints process would be a condition of their readmission. To add further insult, Bonsucro awarded Mitr Pohl the “Bonsucro 2015 Sustainability Award” “for its commitment to sustainably grow business together with cane growers, communities and the environment” despite Mitr Pohl’s ongoing failure to address the human rights impacts and losses that their sugar plantation in Oddar Meanchey province caused.

In February 2016, EC, IDI and LICADHO submitted a new complaint to Bonsucro on behalf of 799 affected families requesting that Bonsucro appoint a mediator to help bring a resolution to the case through adequate remedies. It states that if this was not possible, Mitr Pohl should be expelled from Bonsucro for breaching the organization’s Code of Conduct. The complaint is still pending.

For more information on the 2016 complaint about Bonsucro see the op-ed in Thomas Reuters Foundation News and Bonsucro’s response on the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre website.

Compliant to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand

In May 2013 EC and LICADHO submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) on behalf of 602 affected families alleging that Mitr Pohl’s subsidiaries in Cambodia were involved in widespread human rights violations as a result of its economic land concessions.

The NHRCT released its investigation report in October 2015, which found that Mitr Pohl concessions were connected to human rights violations in Cambodia and that the company was in breach of its responsibility to respect human rights under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Significantly, it found that the company had a responsibility to provide compensation and appropriate remedies for the affected families from the five villages named in the complaint- Bos, O’Bat Moan, Taman, Trapaing Veng and Ktum villages in Oddar Meanchey province. The NHRCT made several recommendations for the redress of these rights violations.


Results of Advocacy

As a result of pressure placed upon Mitr Phol through complaints, community-led and international advocacy, Mitr Pohl withdrew from their land concessions in 2015. Despite continued advocacy by affected communities in Oddar Meanchey directed toward the Cambodian government, these lands have yet to be returned to them. Today the communities are faced with subsequent pressure from other local powerful stakeholders who continue to maintain boundary security over the concession areas. EC is continuing to support these communities to advocate for the return of their land.



In 2006, two economic land concesssions (ELCs) were granted for approximately 20,000 hectares to two companies formed by a consortium of actors including wealthy Cambodian business tycoon, Ly Yong Phat, KSL Group of Thailand, and other smaller stakeholders. The two separate companies were formed to circumvent the size restriction for ELCS set out in Cambodian law. After little to no community consultation, land clearing began in earnest in 2008. Villagers stated that there was widespread damage to orchards and crops, and cattle killings as land was cleared to make way for the sugarcane crops.

Actions against Tate and Lyle and American Sugar Refining

In 2010, Tate and Lyle Sugar Corporation received its first shipment of raw sugar from KSL, with which it had signed a five-year contract with to purchase all of its sugar output from Cambodia and Laos.

Subsequently NGO partners lodged a complaint in 2012 with the OECD national contact point of the United States alleging breaches of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises against the parent company of Tate and Lyle, American Sugar Refining Incorporated. In April 2013, the US National Contact point confirmed that the complaint was admissible for further examination. The OECD complaint however, was suspended pending the outcome of the action against Tate and Lyle in the UK national court system filed by affected communities in Cambodia. In June the NCP issued a final statement stating that the complaint was relevant and substantiated but that the NCP could not play a role in resolving the dispute given current conditions.

In 2013, NGO partner, Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), contacted an English Law Firm on behalf of affected families in Koh Kong to initiate legal action  against Tate and Lyle to recover damages for the sale of the sugar. The claim was filed in March 2013. The lawsuit is still ongoing.

Media and Updates

Villagers stopped en route to capital, May 19, 2017

Kompong Speu Police Stop Petitioners From Reaching Capital May 19, 2017

Victims put pressure on ANZ over the loss of their land, February 23, 2017

The sugar industry has been catastrophic for Cambodia’s poor, so why are companies being honoured?  Thomson Reuters Foundation, June 22, 2016

Open letter to ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott – Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia, March 11, 2016

Government asked to intervene between ANZ and poor Cambodians – ABC PM, October 7, 2014

Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia file OECD complaint against ANZ Bank for financing massive land grab – Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia, October 7, 2014

Evictees resume protest against ANZ Royal – Cambodia Daily, October 1, 2014

ANZ says no to evicted Cambodian farmers – Sydney Morning Herald, August 20, 2014

Thai human rights body says plantation stole land – Cambodia Daily, August 14, 2014

ANZ Royal and sugar firm part ways – Phnom Penh Post, July 7, 2014

ANZ faces accusations it financed businesses that forced villagers from their land – ABC Special Report, April 28, 2014

Deaths raise new questions on ANZ funding of Cambodian sugar projects – April 27, 2014

NGOs say bank must remain to clean mess – Phnom Penh Post, January 30, 2014

ANZ ethics under scrutiny over Cambodian sugar plantation loan – The Age, January 23, 2014

Uniting church wants answers from ANZ over Cambodian sugar plantation – Sydney Morning Herald, January 23, 2014

ANZ monitoring Cambodian sugar client accused of human rights abuses – ABC  Radio Australia, January 23, 2014

ANZ embroiled in sugar land grab – ABC News, January 23, 2014

ANZ implicated in Cambodian sugar evictions – Cambodia Daily, January 23, 2014

ANZ Royal financing Cambodian blood sugar plantation – Phnom Penh Post, January 23, 2014

Clean Sugar Campaign Message to Coca-Cola Company, November 13, 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

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

"Cambodia Clean Sugar" campaign - company responses & non-responses , compiled by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Jul-Oct 2012

“Tales of ‘blood-stained sugar” – Phnom PenhPost, July 4, 2012

Jones Day [UK counsel for villagers]: Cambodian villagers defend their land rights, Oct 2011