A Thai sugar company whose Cambodian subsidiaries are embroiled in a long-running land dispute in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district is directly responsible for the human rights violations suffered by villagers, according to the final report by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT).
The report, which was finalised in March but released in full by NGO EarthRights International yesterday, confirms and elaborates on a preliminary statement by the NHRCT in 2012. But importantly, says EarthRights’ Maureen Harris, the ruling is the first full decision in Thailand on human rights abuses by trans-boundary investment and could impact other international ventures by Thai companies.
“It is quite a significant finding; it has implications for other Thai investors investing in neighbouring countries; it shows that companies have a responsibility for their ownership and supply chains to ensure that human rights abuses don’t occur in their overseas investments,” Harris said.
In its ruling, the NHRCT found although Thai sugar giant Khon Kaen Sugar Industry (KSL) may not have committed the abuses itself, the fact it received and benefitted from the land concessions that caused the human rights violations, meant it was liable.
In early 2006, 456 families from three villages lost about 5,000 hectares of land during a violent eviction drive, which saw homes, farms and livestock destroyed, as well as at least two villagers shot.
Following the crackdown, Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company (KSI) and Koh Kong Plantation company, which was previously partly owned by Cambodian People’s Party senator and sugar tycoon Ly Yong Phat, together received more than 19,000 hectares in economic land concessions covering the area.
KSL, which sells sugar to franchises that produce Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products, holds the controlling stake in the two companies and, according to the ruling, is responsible for violations to villagers’ right to life, right to self-determination and their right to development.
The ruling is not legally binding but a “shaming exercise”, EarthRights’ Harris said, adding that six to eight other complaints are before the commission. The commission calls for KSL to resolve the dispute as soon as possible and improve governance. It also recommends the Thai government set up a mechanism to monitor Thai investments abroad.
Equitable Cambodia’s Eang Vuthy said the findings would help the 200 families still negotiating with the company.