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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ANZ complaint taken to the OECD

Kampong Speu villagers affected by a sugar plantation urge a boycott of ANZ Royal Bank
Kampong Speu villagers affected by a sugar plantation urge a boycott of ANZ Royal Bank outside a branch in Phnom Penh last month. Hong Menea

ANZ complaint taken to the OECD

Villagers displaced by a sugar plantation in Kampong Speu have filed a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against banking giant ANZ, which partially financed the project. The plantation is owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat through his firm, the Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Some 680 families lodged the complaint on Tuesday, claiming that ANZ was complicit in the sugar company’s violations of villager’s rights after having profited from a loan agreement with Phat’s firm.

PPS holds an 8,343-hectare land concession in Kampong Speu that has been at the centre of years-long land disputes and child labour scandals. The 17-page submission details a raft of breaches under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

“This complaint boils down to the basic premise that ANZ should not be allowed to get away with profiting from the grand theft of hundreds of poor families’ land and livelihoods,” David Pred, managing director of Inclusive Development International – one of two NGO’s representing affected villagers – said in a statement yesterday.

“If ANZ wants to continue advertising itself as an ethical business, then it must divest itself of this ill-gotten gain and use those funds to help the victims get back on their feet,” Pred said.

Environmental audit documents commissioned by ANZ and obtained by the Post in January revealed PPS’s link with ANZ Royal Bank – a joint venture between the ANZ Group and Cambodia’s Royal Group. The documents stated that from 2010 to 2013 the sugar company failed to address 60 per cent of recommendations made by an independent auditor, including those related to worker health and safety.

Following the January revelations, ANZ held several meetings with villagers and said it was working with PPS to make changes. But the bank cut ties with the sugar company in July after it paid out the bank’s loan.

Since the July announcement, villagers have held several protests outside ANZ Royal headquarters in Phnom Penh demanding compensation and assistance for lost land as well as calling for a public boycott of the bank’s services.

In an October 1 letter addressed to community representatives, ANZ’s head of sustainability, Ben Walker, said the company was “offering support” to the Governments Ad Hoc committee that deals with land disputes at Cambodia’s sugar plantations and that ANZ was open to a meeting to discuss things further. But given that PPS was no longer a customer of ANZ, the bank was limited in what it could achieve.

“Ultimately, the core of your dispute relates to land and resettlement from land. These are issues that can only be resolved by Phnom Penh Sugar and the Cambodian government, through the Government’s Ad Hoc Committee forum,” the October 1 letter reads.

A spokesman from ANZ confirmed yesterday that the bank was reviewing the complaint and would respond formally in the coming days.

According to civil society network, OECD watch, if an intial complaint is deemed to have merit, the OECD will try to help mediate a solution.

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