Briefs: Sugar Firm Reprimanded, More US Lobbyists, Corruption Rankings

3 min read
Villagers watch a farmhouse burn in Oddar Meanchey province’s O’Bat Moan village in 2009. (Licadho)
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Mitr Phol’s Inclusion in Sustainable Sugar Group Lacked Due Diligence: UK

Controversial sugar giant Mitr Phol should not be part of a sustainable sugarcane industry platform without addressing rights violations in relation to sugarcane plantations in Oddar Meanchey, said a U.K. government body.

Mitr Phol was given three concessions in Oddar Meanchey province in 2008 for sugarcane cultivation. The project resulted in the forced eviction of residents and the razing of villages starting in 2009, resulting in a 2018 class action suit against the sugar company.

The U.K.’s National Contact Point, a body tasked with monitoring corporate activity, said Bonsucro, a nongovernmental sustainable sugarcane advocacy group, had wrongly reinstated the Thai sugar company on its advocacy platform, according to a statement released by local and international NGOs working with affected communities.

Bonsucro “did not undertake an appropriate level of due diligence” before returning Mitr Phol to its membership list in 2015, the NCP said, according to the statement.

“Today’s decision is a vindication of our long struggle to hold Bonsucro accountable for enabling Mitr Phol’s abuses,” asid Eang Vuthy, who heads land rights advocacy NGO Equitable Cambodia. 

The statement also said a U.S. federal court last week ordered Coca Cola, a client of Mitr Phol, to release findings from a previous investigation.

Cambodia Hires Washington Lobbyists for $720,000

The Cambodian government has hired a U.S. law firm to lobby Washington on its behalf for a year for $720,000, according to a filing made with the U.S. Justice Department.

The law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, has a former Obama White House adviser among its team handling Cambodia, according to Reuters.

“Akin Gump will work to maintain open lines of communication to ensure a more reasoned and balanced set of messages around the vitally important Cambodia-US relationship,” the law firm says in its agreement with Cambodia.

The agreement is signed by Kem Ruyzun, Cambodia’s interim charge d’affaires in the U.S.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Chum Sounry has not responded to questions, including about what issues the lobbying will focus on.

The latest hire of lobbyists comes as the U.S. has announced a review of Cambodia’s trade privileges. Some 43 percent of Cambodian exports went to the U.S. in the first nine months of 2021, up from 37 percent in 2020 and 32 percent in 2019.

Cambodia also spent over $1 million on U.S. lobbyists in 2019.

Cambodia Again Fares Poorly on Corruption Perception Index

Cambodia continues to languish at the bottom of Asean in a global corruption perception index released Tuesday, and is doing better than only two other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

International accountability group Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index on Tuesday. Cambodia ranked 157 out of 180 countries, a small improvement from 160th last year but still perceived as “highly corrupt.”

Pech Pisey, who heads Transparency International in Cambodia, said the group applauded the government’s efforts to protect public health and improve public services through the reduction of petty corruption, but there was endemic corruption in public institutions and governance.

Cambodia was behind all Asean member states and only beat out Afghanistan and North Korea in the Asia-Pacific region.

Compiled by Ananth Baliga and Michael Dickison

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