The British sugar giant Tate & Lyle has imported large volumes of sugar from Cambodia through a supplier that is accused of using child labor and being complicit in expropriating land and inflicting violence on local people.
Tate & Lyle — which is the EU’s largest cane sugar producer — has used the Thai KSL Group since 2011 for its supplies from Cambodia. However, KSL is alleged to have been complicit, along with the Cambodian government, in the eviction of people from their land, arson and theft.
Villagers interviewed by the Guardian claim they had their homes and property destroyed and land taken. They also say they were subjected to physical violence and that one of them was killed during the process of land clearance. Children as young as nine work on Cambodian plantations run by KSL.
The allegations against Tate & Lyle call into question the ethics of the sugar industry’s supply chain in much the same way that the clothing and precious metals sectors have been scrutinized.
Two hundred Cambodian families have launched a lawsuit against Tate & Lyle in the High Court in London. The families claim the firm knew — or should have known — of the allegations against its supplier and say they want to be compensated for the value of sugar grown on land they say still belongs to them.
Activists say nearly 100,000 hectares have been cleared in three provinces to make way for sugar plantations since 2006. Most of that land has been stolen from subsistence farmers, they say.
Tate & Lyle contends that it used third-party auditors to vet KSL for legal, ethical and sustainability standards and believes that land concessions were purchased legitimately, compensation paid to villagers and that the sugar it buys is free of human rights abuses. However, it also said it was ready to break its contract with KSL if it finds the supplier has been guilty of any wrongdoing.