A Thai-owned sugar company has threatened legal action against a newspaper that ran a story and video depicting the use of child labour at its Koh Kong province plantation, but advocates on the ground there say the children are indeed used as employees.
The Bangkok Post yesterday reported that Chalush Chinthammit, assistant vice-president for business development and production techniques at Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Plc (KSL), said the company took issue with a July 9 story in the London-based newspaper The Guardian.
Chinthammit told the Bangkok Post that KSL – which supplies London-based sugar giant Tate & Lyle – does not use child labour and that the video posted on The Guardian’s website was staged. He threatened to sue if the issue escalates, the Bangkok Post reported.
Officials at KSL could not be reached yesterday.
KSL’s use of child labour has been confirmed multiple times, said Eang Vuthy, who directs Equitable Cambodia, a land and housing rights NGO.
“[The accusation] has been supported from the villagers,” Vuthy said. “There are many children working at the plantation.”
Peng Kao, a community representative in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district has witnessed children working on KSL plantations, he told the Post yesterday. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 usually earn between 4,000 and 5,000 riel ($1 to $1.25) per day.
“Children work at the sugar farm because their parents don’t have enough money to send them to school,” Kao said.
Recent media reports of child labour are not KSL’s first encounter with controversy. In 2006, KSL officials allegedly forced hundreds of Koh Kong villagers off their land after obtaining an economic land concession from the government.
On July 8, Bonsucro, an international sugar industry monitor formally known as the Better Sugar Cane Initiative, suspended the membership of Tate & Lyle, which is supplied by KSL, after Tate & Lyle failed to provide Bonsucro with an internal review of its finances or a third-party review of the practices of its local suppliers.
Tate & Lyle’s membership with Bonsucro remains suspended, a Bonsucro spokeswoman said yesterday.
By press time yesterday, Tate & Lyle officials had not responded to the Post.
“We appeal to KSL to find a solution,” Vuthy said. “Threatening The Guardian is not solving the problem.”