Kakuzi’s parent company sued by UK firm for alleged human rights abuse

KENYA – The Brirtish owner of the vast Kenyan plantation company, Kakuzi Limited has been sued in the UK by law firm Leigh Day, which is representing scores of alleged victims of rape and violence perpetrated by Kakuzi’s employees.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 79 Kenyans at London’s High Court, accuses Camellia Plc for turning a blind eye to systematic human rights abuse by its subsidiary’s employees for a period of 11 years since 2009, according to Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper.

“The attacks are said to have been part of a pattern of systemic violence and intimidation of villagers by Kakuzi guards over many years, and which have been documented by local human rights organisations,” indicated the statement in part.

Camellia had initially proposed to settle the dispute out of court. It however, demanded that the victims’ names should be revealed.

According to the statement, the firm also demanded that the victims should withdraw their cases against it and use Kenyan lawyers paid for by Kakuzi to negotiate for compensation.

However, those either maimed or families of those who were killed fear that the guards will revenge.

The investigations were conducted with the help of Kenya Human Rights Commission and SOMO, reports Standard Media.

Camellia disowns Kakuzi

In a twist turn of events, the UK multinational Camellia Plc has stated that it does not control Kakuzi’s board or its day-to-day operations in a bid to distance itself from accusations.

“Camellia bought a 50.7 percent stake in the 1990s but we don’t have operational or managerial control, nor control of the board.”

Camellia

According to reports by Business Daily, Camellia has already spent more than Sh500 million in legal expenses and the move to distance itself from Kakuzi is seen as a strategy to sidestep reparations or fines that may be ordered by the court.

“Kakuzi is a Kenyan farming company, quoted on the Nairobi stock exchange and is led by Kakuzi’s board of directors on behalf of its 3,000 employees and 1,300 (mostly Kenyan) shareholders,” the multinational said in a statement.

“Camellia bought a 50.7 percent stake in the 1990s but we don’t have operational or managerial control, nor control of the board.

Kakuzi refutes the claims

In response to the matter, Kakuzi agrees with Camellia’s claims highlighting that, “the Sunday Times article refers to a British Estate in Kenya.  We are not a British estate.  We are a proudly Kenyan Company with 1,300 shareholders, the majority being Kenyan and have been trading on the Nairobi Securities Exchange for over 50 years.”

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“As a responsible corporate citizen Kakuzi does not condone any criminal activities or behavior by any of its employees and to this end we have requested the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate the allegations of criminality and take action in accordance with the law.”

Kakuzi Limited

The company further indicated that Leigh Day firm, wrote to it late last year stating that they intended to take Kakuzi to court in UK over accusations of serious criminal acts committed against anonymous claimants

Kakuzi claims that in July 2020 Leigh Day dropped the Court claims and that the current accusations are a strategy to run a smear campaign against Kakuzi and some of its customers.

It also highlighted that it has provided fully funded independent legal advice and professional counselling services for any claimant as part of a dispute resolution process recognized under the Kenyan Constitution.

“As a responsible corporate citizen Kakuzi does not condone any criminal activities or behavior by any of its employees and to this end we have requested the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate the allegations of criminality and take action in accordance with the law,” stated the company.

UK’s largest supermarket Tesco has stopped avocado supplies from the Kenyan firm.

Tesco suspends Kakuzi avocado supply

Kakuzi is the largest avocado producer in Kenya and according to the International Trade Centre is Africa’s biggest avocado exporter.

It supplies UK supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Lidl and until recently Marks & Spencer.

In response to the matter, UK’s largest supermarket Tesco has stopped avocado supplies from the Kenyan firm.

Tesco says that it had suspended all supply from Kakuzi and it is working with Ethical Trading Initiative, (a group of companies, unions and NGOs that monitor supply chains), to carry out investigations in a bid to ensure workers at the firm are protected. 

A Tesco spokesperson said, “Any form of human rights abuse in our supply chain is unacceptable. We have been working closely with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), alongside other ETI members, to investigate this issue and ensure measures have been taken to protect workers.

“However, in light of additional allegations published, we have suspended all supply whilst we urgently investigate.”

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