Farmers Threaten ANZ With Protest, Demand Help

Farmers from Kompong Speu province handed ANZ Royal Bank a petition on Friday insisting it still had a responsibility to help mend the damage done by a sugar plantation in has helped finance, even though the bank and plantation recently parted ways.

They threatened to start protesting in front of the bank’s Phnom Penh headquarters if it did not agree to help them within the week.

Hundreds of families accuse Senator Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar plantation of stealing their farms and offering little to no compensation in return. Thirteen of them came to Phnom Penh on Friday to lodge a complaint and request for help with ANZ Royal Bank, which had been financing the plantation but announced last month that its loan had been paid out in full.

“We asked ANZ to take responsibility for this case because the bank provided funding to the company for development,” said Cheng Sopheap, one of two villagers who briefly met with bank officials on Friday.

In 2010, International Environmental Management, a Bangkok-based consultancy, carried out an environmental and social assessment of the project for ANZ Royal. It found several shortcomings and made a number of recommendations. Another assessment by the firm in 2013, this time for Phnom Penh Sugar, found that many of the recommendations had not been followed.

In their letter to ANZ Royal, accompanied by more than 300 thumbprints from affected families, the villagers accuse the bank of having “abandoned” them after splitting with Phnom Penh Sugar. Though ANZ Royal only ever financed Phnom Penh Sugar, they also take aim at the neighboring Kompong Speu Sugar plantation, registered to Mr. Yong Phat’s wife, Kim Heang.

The letter accuses the plantations of a raft of abuses, from stealing villagers farms to holding their livestock for ransom and driving them into debt. Those offered compensation say the money was too little and the new land they were given was infertile and far from any source of water.

ANZ Royal, the letter says, is bound to help them by its own social and environmental standards and its signature on the Equator Principles, a voluntary code of conduct committing financial institutions to responsible investment. If nothing else, the letter adds, the families’ loss was the bank’s gain, and its duty to help them did not end because the loan had been paid out.

“While communities suffer, ANZ gained profit from the interest charged on the principal loaned to [Phnom Penh Sugar]. As it profited from the suffering of affected communities, it must now provide redress to those communities,” the letter says.

“In order to comply with its internal policies and international obligations, ANZ must provide compensation and assistance to affected households,” it concluded. “If ANZ refuses to provide compensation and assistance to affected households, we will continue to demand redress from ANZ and demonstrate in front of the ANZ Royal office until a solution is obtained.”

Pen Vichet, the other villager who met with bank officials on Friday, said the bank agreed to review the compensation offered to the families.

“The bank representatives told us they will look again at whether the two companies solved the problem for the villagers,” he said.

Mr. Sopheap said the villagers want either their land back or the market price for what they lost, which he said would range from $2,500 to $3,000 per hectare.

“In case ANZ refuses, we will gather outside the bank to protest until we have success,” he said.

ANZ Royal CEO Grant Knuckey, who attended Friday’s meeting with the Kompong Speu representatives, declined to comment on the meeting or the letter. He referred all questions to Stephen Ries, spokesman for ANZ, the majority owner of ANZ Royal.

In an email, Mr. Ries said the bank had taken steps to address the complaints, but implied that those obligations were now over.

“While we had put in place a detailed action plan to help [Phnom Penh Sugar] improve its performance in addressing its social and environmental obligations, it ultimately decided to pay out its loan and is no longer a customer of ANZ,” he said.

“ANZ had also agreed terms with a global consulting firm for a full CSR [corporate social responsibility] review when the repayment was made.”

Mr. Ries said the villagers at Friday’s meeting were advised to take their complaints back to Phnom Penh Sugar.

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