Cambodia 04 Jul 2014 11:31
Human rights organisations have estimated that 12,000 people in Cambodia have been forced off their land to make way for a new surge of sugar production. The European Union’s initiative ‘Everything but Arms’, which allows Cambodian sugar to be sold duty-free on the European market at a minimum price per tonne, has created a “sugar rush” in Cambodia. As a result, crops have been razed. Animals have been shot. Homes have been burned to the ground. Thousands of people have been left destitute. Some have been thrown in jail for daring to protest. Given no option but to accept inadequate compensations, villagers gave up their homes and farmlands.
The EU is, to date, yet to investigate these reports.
In the meantime, families forced off their land, who have lost their only source of income, have little choice but to work for the very companies who have claimed their land, either at factory level, or cutting and bundling sugar canes for rates as low as US$2.50 per day. The dire economic situation means that children also work in the cane fields but still the families earn barely enough money to survive.
On March 2013, a lawsuit was filed in the UK against Tate&Lyle, the multi-national sugar giant, to which the majority of exports from the Koh Kong plantation are being sent. 200 Cambodian farmers are suing the company for violating their rights as, under Cambodian law, the fruits of the land belong to the landowner (or lawful possessor in this case). According to humanitarian organizations Tate&Lyle is knowingly benefiting from the harvest of stolen land, and the rightful owners of the harvest are not receiving their share of sugar sales.
Land ownership in Cambodia is difficult to establish, due to the country’s evolving legal and political structures following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, and the country is slowly trying to re-establish land titling through government programs. Though in the past, and still for the time being, small-scale farmers and poor households are often forced to give up their land for little compensation.
Fair development and industrialization is a struggle for this South East Asian nation, where, for the right price, powerful landowners, wealthy businessmen, and foreign investors have their pick of the country’s prime real estate.