In 2008, the Cambodian government granted Mitr Phol subsidiaries a 200-square-kilometer parcel of land to develop massive cane plantations in the country’s northwest. Yet more than 2,000 families already lived there, eking out a living farming rice and gathering food and medicine from the forest. They made it clear they didn’t want to leave.
No matter: police and private security forces descended on the area in stages, slashing the forests, forcibly evicting residents, bulldozing houses, torching rice fields, and beating and arresting villagers. Landless and unable to make a living, the evicted families have descended deeper into poverty.
Following an investigation conducted last year, the Thai National Human Rights Commission found Mitr Phol directly responsible for the forced evictions and associated human rights violations. The land grabs led to the “collapse of the community,” commissioner Niran Phitakwatchara said at a press conference. Rarely, if ever, has a national human rights commission issued such a strong condemnation of a private company. In its final report, the Commission called upon Mitr Phol to “correct and remedy the impacts.”
Sugar is big business in Cambodia. Under the Everything But Arms initiative, product grown in the country can be shipped duty-free to the EU, where it ends up in soft drinks, sweets and other goods. Tate & Lyle and Coca-Cola are just some of the brands that have benefited from cheap sugar sourced from Cambodia.
Yet the growth of the industry has been catastrophic for the country’s poor. More than 15,000 people have been forcibly evicted to make way for plantations. These evictees have no hope of pursuing justice in the Cambodian courts, which are corrupt and beholden to the elite, or by appealing to government leaders, many of whom enrich themselves through such land deals.