BANGKOK – A Cambodian farmers consortium has been hit with a major setback after the Bangkok South Civil Court rejected their application on Thursday for a class action lawsuit against Thailand’s biggest sugar company Mitr Phol.
According to the plaintiff’s lawyer and a land rights organization, representing more than 700 families, say they will appeal, the decision means each family would most likely have to bring individual cases against Mitr Phol, making the legal expenses too high for their low incomes.
Class Action Suits are Rare in Thailand
The plaintiffs, Smen Te and Hoy Mai, took the case against sugar producer Mitr Phol to court last year claiming that their land had been appropriated by the company in 2008.
Other dispute settlement mechanisms they tried have failed.
Mitr Phol is Thailand’s biggest sugar producer and says it is the world’s fifth-biggest sugar company.
Last year, it recorded a revenue of 95 billion Thai baht ($3bn) and a profit of $30.5m.
Smen Te and Hoy Mai are among hundreds of families in Oddar Meanchey province in Cambodia’s north who claim that Mitr Phol’s subsidiary wrongfully took their land.
The company returned the land to the government a few years later, but villagers say they have neither received adequate compensation nor their land.
As a direct result of losing their land to the company, the villagers say they lost their incomes and livelihoods, their children could not go to school, and multiple villagers were arrested for protesting against the company.
One of the affected villagers, Chhouy Chhaya, was arrested on June 11 for “clearing forestland”, one day after her aunt, Hoy Mai, left to give evidence in the Thai court.
She remains in prison, Equitable Cambodia, a land rights non-governmental organisation which supported the villagers’ case, said.
The Bangkok South Civil Court ruled on Thursday that the cases of the 711 families were not suitable to be treated as a class action.