Koh Kong Families Settle in Long-running Land Dispute

The 200 Koh Kong families caught up in a long-running dispute over land they allege was stolen by sugar companies have reached a settlement with “supply chain actors”
A beach in Koh Kong province. Kiripost/Meas Molika
A beach in Koh Kong province. Kiripost/Meas Molika

A long-running land dispute between 200 families in Koh Kong’s Chikor Leu commune over hectares of land they alleged were stolen by sugar companies in 2006 has reached a settlement.

According to a statement from Equitable Cambodia, the settlement has been made between unnamed “supply chain actors” in relation to a land concession granted to KSL Group of Thailand in 2006.

The settlement has led to the withdrawal of the lawsuit that was originally filed against UK sugar producer Tate & Lyle.

The dispute stretches back to 2006, when two sugar companies were granted an approximate 20,000-hectare land concession. Villagers then claim they were violently evicted and had their homes bulldozed.

In 2012, Equitable Cambodia and partner local and international NGOs stepped in to help villagers with their advocacy efforts and an ongoing court battle that went to one of the highest courts in the UK ensued.

A decade later, a joint voluntary settlement agreement to end the dispute was agreed between the 200 households and 71 child labor claimants involved in litigation in the UK High Court.

In April, impacted villagers received the funds. Mother-of-two, Nuoch Min, was one of them. She said, “I’m very happy and surprised. I never expected the money to arrive. We have been waiting for a long time. Many times, the company promised to pay money in the past, but it never happened, so I can’t believe it’s not a dream.”

She added that she has already used some of the money to pay back the loans she has been forced to take out to support her family since the dispute started in 2006. It has also provided her with the finances to further fund her children’s education.

“In providing this resolution, supply chain actors have finally shown some level of accountability for their involvement in these very serious human rights violations,” Min added.

“Far too often, complicated corporate arrangements allow companies to avoid responsibility for violations, and this settlement sets an important precedent with regards to the intersection of business and human rights.”

In the statement from Equitable Cambodia, the NGO said, it “is pleased to have worked with private sector stakeholders to provide some level of resolution to this long-standing and important issue”.

“The resolution is a testament to the tireless efforts of the community to push for justice, and the sustained support provided by many local and international NGOs,” it added.

Since 2018, Koh Kong province local authorities have weighed in to offer support to the community. This has mainly been in the form of assisting 200 households to access land titles from a 300-hectare section of the land concession.

This land has been returned to villagers as part of a separate agreement that was reached in 2014.

Eang Vuthy, Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia, said, “Even though this result took many years to be realized, it’s important to show that when companies contribute to harm, they have an obligation to provide remedies to the victims.”