Campaigners on Wednesday called for a boycott of Cambodian “blood sugar” over claims that increasing production had resulted in human rights abuses.
Representatives from the Cambodia Clean Sugar Campaign said crops had been razed, homes burned and animals shot after thousands of hectares of land concessions were set aside for industrial sugar cane production.
Cambodian sugar exports to Europe benefit from the Everything But Arms trade initiative, which allows low-income countries to export certain goods to the economic bloc with zero tariffs.
“Because of this policy, sugar plantations have been growing quickly,” said Eang Vuthy of rights group Equitable Cambodia. “We see people are losing their land instead of benefiting.”
Community representatives said villagers had lost farm- and pasture land.
“If you are buying this sugar, you are buying our blood,” said Phol Vannak from a community in Kampong Speu province in south-western Cambodia where about 2 000 families have been affected by the land concessions.
Civil society groups in Cambodia have called for the European Union to investigate alleged human rights violations while campaigners have demanded adequate compensation for affected communities.
They also called for a consumer boycott of companies selling sugar grown on disputed land, including Tate & Lyle Sugars.
A spokeswoman for Tate & Lyle PLC said the company sold its sugar division to T&L Sugars Ltd, part of American Sugar Holdings, in 2010.
The representative said the operation was now running under the name Tate & Lyle Sugars and referred all further questions to them. Tate & Lyle Sugars did not reply to an emailed request for comment.
The Phnom Penh Post newspaper on Wednesday quoted Chheang Kimsun of producer Phnom Penh Sugar Co as saying a campaign against the industry would hurt development. He added that a high-profile dispute in Kampong Speu province's Omlaing area had been solved two years ago.
Politicians have previously raised concerns about the Cambodian industry. Last year, EU parliamentarian Cecilia Wikstrom said she would push for the EU to suspend trade preferences for Cambodian sugar.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in April that Europe was “worried” about economic land concessions in Cambodia and he had discussed the issue with Cambodia's commerce minister, Cham Prasidh.
A government spokesman said Tuesday that communities should file complaints about concessions in the courts.
Land disputes are a pressing issue in Cambodia. The country's land tenure system is weak since the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime abolished property rights.Author: Ellie Dyer – Sapa-dpa