Gloria Jean's accused of supporting Cambodia's authoritarian family dynasty led by PM Hun Sen
By Southeast Asia correspondent Liam Cochrane
Updated Thu at 8:27am
Australian coffee chain Gloria Jean's and the Australian Red Cross have been criticised for supporting the authoritarian family dynasty led by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
His niece Hun Kimleng is the "guarantor" of the Gloria Jean's franchise in Cambodia, according to a report from London-based conflict and corruption watchdog Global Witness.
Just last week, the Australian Red Cross ended its funding of the Cambodian Red Cross, which is led by Hun Sen's wife Bun Rany and allegedly uses aid delivery for political purposes.
"Hun Sen and his family control Cambodia's private sector, [in] a huge network of secret deal making, corruption and cronyism that is helping to bankroll the prime minister's dictatorial campaign of violence and oppression," said Global Witness in a statement.
Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.
The vast business links of the Hun family were revealed from corporate registry data published on Cambodia's Ministry of Commerce website.
The Global Witness report — titled Hostile Takeover — links Hun Sen's family members to companies worth at least $268 million, including international brands such as Apple, Nokia, Visa, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble and Honda.
In the list are two Australian brands.
'Really high risk' in Gloria Jean's brand
There are five Gloria Jean's coffee shops in the capital, Phnom Penh, and one store in the temple town of Siem Reap.
"Hun Kimleng is a guarantor of the business entity Gloria Jean's Coffees Co. Ltd which has owned the Master Franchise licence for the Gloria Jean's Coffees Brand System since 2009," a representative of Retail Food Group (RFG) said.
RFG acquired the Gloria Jean's Coffees franchise system in December 2014, taking on hundreds of franchises in Australia and abroad.
"As these Master Franchise Agreements arise for renewal, RFG carefully considers each applicant before proceeding with the grant of a further license," RFG said in a statement sent to the ABC.
"Should there be any evidence of illegal or unlawful behaviour by any of RFG's licensees, a full investigation would be initiated, and appropriate actions taken."
The ABC has received no evidence of illegal activities by Gloria Jean's in Cambodia, but Global Witness said the link to the Prime Minister could damage the coffee chain's reputation.
"I think there's a really high risk to their brand," Patrick Alley from Global Witness said.
"There's nothing to say that politicians or their family members shouldn't be involved in business, but what we are seeing in Cambodia is that various laws, checks and balances are thrown to the wayside to enable the family to get control of particular businesses.
"Too often foreign investors … don't take into account the ethical and moral dimensions in investing in a particular climate or a particular regime that will actually hinder development of that country."
Cambodia's development in recent years has been a mixed story.
The overall economy enjoys a growth rate of around 7 per cent and poverty levels have fallen, yet there are still 3 million "poor people" and over 8.1 million who are "near-poor", according to the World Bank.
Land grabbing is rife, the security forces and courts are used to repress the political opposition and basic human rights are routinely denied.
In May, the United Nations called on Cambodia to stop targeting civil society, human rights defenders, parliamentarians and UN personnel, and to take effective measures to protect civil society and respect fundamental freedoms in the country.
Red Cross 'the humanitarian wing of the CPP'
The Australian Red Cross (ARC) has worked with its Cambodian counterpart since the 1960s.
"Since 1995, our work has focussed on addressing vital humanitarian needs, including rehabilitation for people injured by landmines, HIV prevention, disability inclusion and road safety," director of international programs Peter Walton said.
Mr Walton said the ARC contributed, on average, $253,540 a year to Cambodian Red Cross and stressed that accounted for less than 1.5 per cent of Cambodian Red Cross' annual funding.
The Cambodian Red Cross has a controversial reputation.
"It's been called the humanitarian wing of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP)," Mr Alley said.
"It will hold high-profile events; it will donate to money to various good causes but actually market that as gifts given to Cambodia by the CPP.
"The propaganda value of being associated with must be one of the ultimate international brands — the Red Cross — obviously does give the ruling family a credibility they simply don't deserve."
The funding relationship with the Australian Red Cross ended last week, as part of a wider strategic move.
"As we are now focussing on other countries in the region, especially Pacific Island nations, we are no longer funding programs with Cambodian Red Cross," Mr Walton said.
The ARC has also stopped funding programs in Laos, Thailand, North Korea, China, Vietnam and Maldives.
"No matter where we work or with which partner, we have high standards of accountability for money provided from Australia," Mr Walton said.
The Cambodian Government has made shows at tackling corruption but remains towards the bottom of international graft rankings.
In 2011, more than 25,000 officials were required to declare their assets to the new Anti-Corruption Unit.
Hun Sen declared his wage of $18,000 a year, yet his personal wealth has been estimated at more than $670 million.
"Besides my salary I don't have any other income. But I think my children will support me, they won't let me starve," Hun Sen said.