Thai firm: Sugar farm damage assessment is almost finished
by Zsombor Peter and Aun Pheap
A Thai environmental auditing firm has confirmed that it is assessing the fallout from a trio of plantations in Oddar Meanchey province that Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol abandoned in late 2014 amid mounting accusations of land grabbing.
Niran Phitakwatchara, a member of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, announced Mitr Phol’s decision to hire International Environmental Management (IEM) for a “damage assessment” of the plantations in October, nearly a year after the firm returned them to the state.
At the time, Mr. Niran said that the sugar company, one of Coca Cola’s top three international suppliers, had agreed “to take responsibility for the damage caused by their operations” and would use the assessment to compensate affected families.
Mitr Phol has ignored numerous requests for comment.
Bangkok-based IEM, however, confirmed that the assessment was in progress.
“IEM is nearing completion of this work,” CEO Ron Livingston said in an email on Wednesday. “However, it must still be reviewed by the company, so at this time it is too early to discuss.”
Some land rights groups are skeptical that the firm will do a thorough job.
IEM is the same company that assessed another sugar cane plantation accused of stealing land from hundreds of families in Kompong Speu province. It found that the plantation, owned by Phnom Penh Sugar, had damaged the environment and that most local residents were against it, but did not corroborate claims of land-grabbing, said David Pred, managing director of the NGO Inclusive Development International. He accused IEM of having “whitewashed a massive land grab.”
“It’s no surprise that Mitr Phol selected this firm to ‘assess’ its record,” he wrote in an email.
Huy Mai, who watched authorities burn down her home in 2009 to make way for Mitr Phol’s Oddar Meanchey plantations, and who represents hundreds of fellow evictees, said she was unaware of any private assessment of the sugar company’s past work.
Local authorities also said that they were not aware of the IEM assessment.
“I don’t know about a study by IEM, and I think this information is not true because they have not reported to local authorities,” said Nak Kamul, deputy governor of Samraong City, the provincial capital.