Thai court allows Cambodian class action against Thai firm

BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court ruled Friday that several hundred families in Cambodia who were displaced from their homes may file a class action suit against the Thai company they believe was responsible, a decision hailed as trailblazing by land rights activists.

The Bangkok South Civil Court issued the ruling in a case in which Cambodian farmers are suing Thailand’s Mitr Phol company, one of the world’s largest sugar producers.

About 700 families were forcibly evicted from their homes in 2008-2009 when Cambodian subsidiaries of Mitr Phol were acquiring plots of land in a Cambodian government-approved plan to turn the northwestern province of Oddar Meanchey into a sugar production hub.

To make way for the new industrial sugar plantation, hundreds of houses were demolished or burned to the ground, triggering protests from villagers. Mitr Phol withdrew from the project in 2014 and its subsidiaries were shut down.

“The importance of this legal precedent cannot be overstated,” said Natalie Bugalski, legal director for Inclusive Development International, a private group promoting corporate responsibility. “This is a David vs. Goliath case that will redefine access to justice for the victims of corporate abuse in Southeast Asia and beyond.”

The court decision “rightly recognizes that national borders must not provide corporations with a free pass to act with impunity, nor should they pose a barrier to anyone seeking justice for alleged human rights abuses,” said Amnesty International, which also supported the farmers’ lawsuit.

The Cambodian farmers filed a lawsuit seeking damages in April 2018 under a provision in Thai law allowing a class action to be brought by foreign plaintiffs for abuses committed by a Thai company abroad.

The court initially ruled that the case was not eligible for class action status due to problems in communication, as the plaintiffs were hard to reach because they we

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