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Mitr Phol disputants file complaint to UK government against Bonsucro

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Villagers watch a community building burnt next to a sugar plantation belonging to Thailand’s Mitr Phol Sugar Corporation in Oddar Meanchey province in 2009. SUPPLIED

Mitr Phol disputants file complaint to UK government against Bonsucro

Alleged victims of land grabbing in Oddar Meanchey province have filed a formal complaint to the UK government against Bonsucro, the sugar industry’s sustainability certification body, accusing it of breaches of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Inclusive Development International (IDI) which facilitated the filing of the complaint said this in a media release on Monday.

It said the complainants allege that Bonsucro failed to hold a member company, Mitr Phol, accountable after the Thai sugar giant grabbed the land of more than 700 families in Samrong District’s Konkriel Commune and left them homeless and destitute.

Representatives of the families filed the complaint with the UK National Contact Point, a government body that handles human rights grievances against British multinational enterprises. Bonsucro is headquartered in the UK, a member of the OECD, and has operations that span the globe.

“The families were forced off their land to make way for Mitr Phol’s sugarcane plantations between 2008 and 2009. Those who sought to defend their rights were thrown in jail. The families have endured more than a decade of impoverishment and related hardships as a result of the land seizures,” IDI said.

“We thought Bonsucro would help us find justice, but instead they just protected their member’s reputation,” said Hoy Mai, one of the displaced farmers who, IDI said, spent eight months in prison while pregnant for peacefully protesting the land grab.

IDI said Bonsucro’s 450 members would this week attend the association’s annual meeting, ‘Bonsucro Global Week’, in Bangkok, where Mitr Phol’s sustainability efforts will be showcased.

‘Seeking accountability’

It said Mitr Phol’s current and former corporate customers – including The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Mars Wrigley, Nestle and Corbion – would attend an event, which will culminate with a visit to a Mitr Phol sugar mill.

IDI legal director Natalie Bugalski said Bonsucro must follow the international framework on business and human rights and provide grievance mechanisms to people harmed by their members.

“Bonsucro has spectacularly failed to fulfil this responsibility. On behalf of the displaced communities who turned to Bonsucro to support their quest for justice and the consumers who were led to believe that the Bonsucro label meant ethically produced sugar, we are seeking accountability,” she said.

Huoy Chhuoy, one of the affected villagers, said on Monday that most of the families received their land back in 2015 after Mitr Phol withdrew. But they filed complaints to a Thai court and the UK government to demand compensation for the losses which resulted from being unable to cultivate their land from 2008 to 2015.

Chhouy said there are still 92 families who have not received their land back due to conflicts with other villagers.

He said that when Angkor Sugar, a Mitr Phol subsidiary, received an economic land concession from the government to plant sugarcane, the company did not conduct an impact assessment, and when it began operating the plantation, it affected the villagers’ land.

“The complaints to the Thai government and others were to demand compensation. Our government has already solved the problems for me and other families and they are solving the problem for the remaining."

“We are demanding compensation from the company for the impact caused and the time we were unable to cultivate our land,” Chhuoy said.

Equity Cambodia, an NGO which assisted with the complaint, could not be reached for comment.

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