On 11 March 2019, representatives of more than 700 Cambodian families who were violently displaced to make way for a sugar plantation have filed a formal complaint with the UK NCP against Bonsucro, the sugar industry’s sustainability certification body, for breaches of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (Guidelines). The complainants allege that Bonsucro failed to hold a member company, Mitr Phol, accountable after the Thai sugar giant grabbed their land and left them homeless and destitute. Bonsucro is headquartered in the United Kingdom and has operations that span the globe.
The complaint was filed on behalf of the Cambodian families by the U.S. organization Inclusive Development International and the Cambodian organizations Equitable Cambodia and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).
Complainants assert that families were forced off their land to make way for Mitr Phol’s sugarcane plantations between 2008 and 2009. Those who sought to defend their rights were jailed. The families have endured more than a decade of impoverishment and related hardships as a result of the land seizures. Complainants assert that although the Thai National Human Rights Commission found Mitr Phol responsible for the land grab and called upon the company to “correct and remedy the impacts,” Mitr Phol has refused to provide any form of compensation to the Cambodian families.
Representatives of the evicted families submitted a complaint against Mitr Phol to Bonsucro’s grievance mechanism in 2011. A year later, the Thai company withdrew from Bonsucro rather than address the complaint. In 2015, Bonsucro quietly reinstated Mitr Pohl and never restarted the complaint process. Inclusive Development International, Equitable Cambodia and LICADHO filed another complaint in 2016, which Bonsucro’s board dismissed in December 2018 on the grounds that it had not received “cogent evidence that…Mitr Phol breached the terms of Bonsucro’s Code of Conduct in place at the time.”
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Chapter II
- Chapter II Paragraph A10
- Chapter II Paragraph A12
- Chapter IV
- Chapter IV Paragraph 3
- Chapter IV Paragraph 4
- Chapter IV Paragraph 5
- Chapter IV Paragraph 6
On 25 September 2019, the UK NCP issued an initial assessment accepting the complaint . The NCP noted that a precise definition of multinational enterprises is not required for the purpose of the Guidelines and that it considered that the Guidelines apply to Bonsucro as a company with member organisations established in more than one country.
The NCP then formally asked the parties whether they were willing to engage in a mediation/conciliation process, with the aim of agreeing how the issues identified could be successfully addressed.
Mediation between the parties took place in 2020, however, the parties did not come to an agreement. The UK NCP then conducted further investigation on the complaint.
On 11 January 2022, the UK NCP released its final statement, which stated that Bonsucro not complied with the standards in the Guidelines. The NCP found:
- That Bonsucro was a multinational enterprise covered by the Guidelines;
- That it was directly linked to the harms due to its business relationship with the parent company that pays dues and reaps reputational benefits;
- That because the harms were outstanding once Mitr Phol became a member of Bonsucro, and Bonsucro was aware of them, it had leverage to address them after 2011.
- That as a membership organisation, Bonsucro does have leverage over its members and failed to use its leverage appropriately with Mitr Phol when it readmitted it.
- That Bonsucro did not undertake an appropriate level of due diligence (asking new members to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire) for the context of its operations.
This is the first NCP complaint about an MSI to produce a final statement. The UK NCP request an update from the two parties in 2023.