Class action case against sugar firm makes it the first of its kind in region

A landmark case against one of the world’s largest sugar producers is paving the way from trans-boundary class action lawsuits.

Hoy Mai & Others vs Mitr Phol Co is the first case of its kind in Southeast Asia. Plantiffs representing more than 700 families were allowed to move forward in a case accusing the Thai company of abuse. The plaintiffs accuse Thai-based Mitr Phol of “complicity in the forcible displacement of families” to clear the way for an industrial sugar plantation in Oddar Meanchey, Cambodia.

“This is an interesting development in Southeast Asia from a jurisprudential viewpoint,” a legal expert told Khmer Times under the condition of anonymity.

“The plaintiffs have naturally chosen Thailand as their preferred forum for dispute resolution on this point, as they do not trust the credibility of the Cambodian judicial system. As Mitr Pohl was a concession holder here, the courts are expected to be biased against the plaintiffs.” Mitr Phol Sugar Corp is a privately owned group of companies, mainly owned by the Vongkusolkit family. As of 2014, Mitr Phol was ranked as the world’s fifth largest sugar producer and the largest producer in Asia. It is Thailand’s largest sugar producer and the second largest in China through its joint venture company East Asia Sugar. In addition to Thailand and China, Mitr Phol has operations and investments in Lao PDR, Cambodia and, most recently, Australia. Its key business units include sugar, wood substitute materials and renewable energy. It also provides sugar to Nestle, Mars and Wrigley. It registered an estimated $2.759 billion in revenue last year, according to Bloomberg.

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