First Sum Tea lost her farm. Then she lost her son.
Sum Tea is one of hundreds of farmers who lost her small landholding in 2006 when the Cambodian government granted Phnom Penh Sugar, a company owned by Cambodian tycoon and ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat, concessions to establish sugar plantations on 20,000 hectares in the impoverished Kampong Speu Province.Last December her 17-year-old son Ly was on his fifth day of work for PP Sugar when he was killed by a harvester. “I’m very angry at the company because it grab five hectares of my land and now my son,” she recently told Fairfax Media.
Five weeks ago Tha Seng Hak was working on a Cambodian sugar cane field financed by Australian banking giant ANZ when she was told a fellow worker had been killed – sliced up by a faulty harvester.
“The foreman asked everyone to count and call who was missing and I run to the truck and found pieces of my mum’s Kroma (scarf). I realised the body was that of my mother.”
After the sugar cane field deaths, PP Sugar paid compensation of a few thousand American dollars to the grieving families.
Sum Tea’s eldest son, who is 20, still works at the sugar field where her youngest son died. Her story underlines the dilemma of development in Third World countries. Tea says she is worried about the safety of her eldest son but that he needs the job and has no other options.
The deaths raise fresh questions about ANZ’s decision to finance Senator Phat’s sugar crops, which have involved child-labour, military-backed land grabs, forced evictions and food shortages.
ANZ is a signatory to a global ethical lending code and has its own policies that mean the projects it finances should not involve human rights abuses or environmental exploitation.
Fairfax Media revealed ANZ’s involvement in the Cambodian sugar projects in January when it published details from two confidential audits of PP Sugar’s operations.
The audits, prepared for ANZ and PP Sugar, found the company had failed to introduce proper work health and safety plans for its staff, despite the need for them being raised in 2010 after the bank had decided to fund the project.
“General worker health and safety practices upon observation appear to be poor [i.e lack of appropriate protective equipment used by workers and the presence of children on site],” said a September 2013 audit by consultant International Environmental Management company.
Nor had PP Sugar checked to see whether families forced from their lands by the sugar crops had adequate food supplies. Environmental, health and social management programs required by the bank to meet its ethical lending had not been implemented.
ANZ executives and Senator Phat this year have met Cambodian farmers and villagers affected by PP Sugar’s land grab.
In a statement, ANZ said it “has been involved in an extensive dialogue here in Australia and in Cambodia to hear the concerns of NGOs as well as supporting our customer meeting with NGOs and members of the community directly”.
“ANZ is continuing to actively and closely review the way PPS is addressing its social and environmental obligations,” it said.