A Change of Guard

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Saturday, 1 December 2012

Tate and Lyle faces boycott over Cambodian sugar land grabbing claims [This is blood sugar]

Taste and Smile?

Published on Jun 26, 2012 Stop Tate and Lyle Sugars buying from suppliers that bleed Cambodian farmers by taking their land. Boycott Tate and Lyle Sugars until they compensate the families who have lost everything so that they can make a profit.
Cambodia sugar plantations Cambodia's sugar boom is responsible for growing conflict between poor farmers and big business. Photo: GETTY
By Lucy Dunne 
30th November, 2012 

Following our investigation which highlighted allegations of human rights abuses in Cambodia's sugar industry, activists are stepping up their campaign against sugar companies buying from the region. Lucy Dunne reports

The call to boycott sugar company Tate and Lyle over allegations of illegal land seizures and human rights abuses in Cambodia has been boosted by recent discussions in the European Union. On October 26th, 2012 the European Parliament called on the European Commission to investigate “the escalation of human rights abuses in Cambodia” resulting from economic land concessions, granted in order to develop the agricultural industry for export to the EU.

The Parliament also urged the Commission to temporarily suspend the Everything But Arms (EBA) treaty on agricultural products from Cambodia “in cases where human rights abuses are identified”. A coalition of civil society groups who make up the Clean Sugar Campaign argue that this preferential trade status has fuelled an explosion of illegal land concessions to private companies.

Recent action in the EU over the EBA is the strongest signal yet that the international community is beginning to question what is being done in the name of “development” in Cambodia. David Pred of Inclusive Development International (IDI) argues: “Far from benefiting the poor, the agro-industrial investment that has increasingly been attracted to Cambodia due to its EBA status has resulted in the impoverishment of a significant segment of the Cambodian population. The benefits, meanwhile, have remained concentrated in the hands of Cambodia’s business and political elite.”

Campaigners maintain that the EU's EBA Treaty, which allows Cambodia tariff-free access to European markets, has led to the expansion of a sugar industry responsible for gross violations of human rights. Tate and Lyle faces allegations that its Cambodian suppliers are implicated in this and campaigners are now arguing for a boycott of the company’s products.

Tate and Lyle’s alleged involvement is as a result of the suppliers it is reportedly using in the country. Cambodian senator and agro-baron Ly Yong Phat owns a number of companies granted government concessions following the EBA treaty and it is these companies that have allegedly made business deals with Tate and Lyle. In January 2010, the Bangkok Post reported that the sugar giant had signed a five-year contract to buy sugar from Ly Yong Phat's companies based in Cambodia and Laos, operating through Thai-based company Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Plc (KSL). Two of Ly Yong Phat’s companies, Koh Kong Sugar and Phnom Penh Sugar, face a barrage of allegations regarding human rights violations.

In April 2011, The Ecologist first reported in detail on Cambodia's sugar boom as part of its special investigation What's Really In Your Cuppa?. According to David Pred of IDI, land concessions granted to private companies for sugar cultivation have led to the forcible eviction, dispossession and impoverishment of more than 12,000 people across three provinces in the country. Land controlled by private firms for agricultural development now accounts for approximately 12 per cent of the country’s total land mass. Environmental damage, including the clearance of crops and farmland, the destruction of forests, and the poisoning of local water sources, is extensive. 

Civil and political rights have also reportedly come under attack following widespread opposition to the government concessions resulting from the EBA Treaty. According to information gathered by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) for 2011, 95 people were arrested and 48 detained in protests over land grabs in that year alone.

The international media widely reported the death of prominent environmentalist Chut Wutty who died at the hands of armed forces in April 2012. Wutty was extremely vocal in his opposition to illegal logging and land grabs, his death symbolising for many the Cambodian government’s brutal crackdown on dissent. A soldier's fatal shooting of a teenage girl, Heng Chantha, during a violent forced eviction in May has raised concerns still further.

Given the slow pace of action in the EU over the situation in Cambodia until recently, activists have led the way by calling for a boycott of Tate and Lyle sugar. In July this year, a shock video (see above) was launched by the Clean Sugar Campaign in order to promote the boycott. In the video entitled Taste and Smile? viewers are urged to “Stop Tate and Lyle sugars buying from suppliers who bleed Cambodian farmers by taking their land...They say they are committed to fair trade production. Tell them to start by compensating the Cambodian farmers who lost everything so that Tate and Lyle sugar can be produced. Boycott blood sugar.”

In previous correspondence with The Ecologist, Tate and Lyle confirmed that it had sold its EU Sugar Refining Business to American Sugar Refining (ASR) which trades under the name Domino Sugar in the US. When questioned about the company’s suppliers in Cambodia, a spokesman replied stating: “Domino Sugar does not buy or sell a single ounce of sugar to Cambodia.” The company has remained silent on whether sugar supplied from Cambodia is sold under the Tate and Lyle brand name in the UK. This month, we have made several attempts to contact Tate and Lyle regarding the boycott and the allegations being made by the Clean Sugar Campaign. Despite repeated requests, Tate and Lyle have failed to respond to these allegations. 

In May this year, under pressure from the international community, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a new directive establishing a moratorium on new economic land concessions (ELCs) and a review of all existing ELCs. However, this was severely qualified by the allowance that any ELC “under negotiation” would remain unaffected by the moratorium. Campaigners argue that at least twelve 12 new ELCs have been granted since the moratorium was announced earlier this year. The European Parliament’s recent demand that the Commission launch an investigation shows increasing dissatisfaction with the Cambodian government’s handling of the issue.

In addition to mounting pressure from the EU, in September this year Surya P. Subedi, UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, presented a 120-page report to the Human Rights Council. It concluded that there are “well documented serious and widespread human rights violations associated with land concessions that need to be addressed and remedied.” Such a report from an international monitoring body has provided an enormous boost to the calls of NGOs and campaigners for the EBA to be suspended.  The boycott continues.
Lucy Dunne is an investigations intern at The Ecologist

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