One of the largest agricultural cultivation and manufacture multinational company operating in Kenya, Kakuzi PLC has been cited over corporate impunity and far reaching human rights abuses claims spanning over a decade ago.
With lack of a global mechanism to hold corporations accountable and are not accountable to the public interest, yet they dominate many national governments and often set domestic and international political agendas, Kakuzi is accused of labour violations, killings, rape, attacks and false imprisonments.
The abuses as said to have occurred between 2009 and 2020.
The case against the multinational company, majority-owned by UK-based Camellia, has been brought with the support of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) represented by law firm Leigh Day.
Britain’s biggest grocery retailer, Tesco, has since suspended the supply of avocados from a vast Kenyan plantation operation.
Tesco announced the move after Leigh Day said it had initiated legal action against UK firm Camellia, whose subsidiary runs the site.
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.”
Among the allegations lodged in part by former Kakuzi employees, the company’s security guards have been accused of violations including killings, rape, attacks and false imprisonments.
Leigh Day has however lodged the case against Kakuzi’s parent company noting the firm’s close supervision by its UK managers.
“The case is being lodged against the UK parent companies in the Camellia Group because of the clear evidence that Kakuzi is tightly supervised and controlled by those UK companies, and that senior managers in the UK companies also manage Kakuzi,” noted Leigh Day.
One of the cases levelled against Kakuzi include the battering of a 28-year-old man to death over allegedly stealing avocados.
However, in a rejoinder, Kakuzi came out on the defence accusing Leigh Day of running a smear campaign against them and some of their customers.
Interestingly, earlier, Kakuzi, a Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed firm through its Kent-based parent company Camellia Plc in August this year confessed to having incurred losses from costs of defending itself in the UK legal system.
The matter was first disclosed by its Kent-based parent company Camellia Plc which said it had been sued over assault and sexual misconduct conducted by employees in its African operations but did not mention Kakuzi specifically.
Kakuzi now says it is among the parties sued in the UK. “The company is also defending itself from a UK legal firm who wishes to bring Kakuzi into the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom,” Kakuzi’s chairman Graham Mclean says in the company’s interim report.
“The costs of this action to June 30, 2020 are included in the half year results,” he added without saying how much the firm spent in legal costs in the review period.
The Avocado Society of Kenya backed Kakuzi up, accusing the Sunday Times of colluding to run down Kenya’s avocado value chain as it defined Kakuzi as a ‘responsible corporate citizen’.
Kakuzi supplies other supermarkets in the UK with avocados including Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Marks & Spencer.
The company operates a 54 square mile plantation in Murang’a County, employing an estimated 3000 persons and is a major grower of avocados, macadamia nuts and pineapples.
A week ago, Kakuzi saw the backlash from the allegations drive down its share price at NSE to Ksh.380.
Camellia, a global conglomerate which employs 78,000 people worldwide, said in a statement it bought a 50.7 per cent stake in Kakuzi in the 1990s but that it did not have “operational or managerial control”.
“Kakuzi is investigating the allegations so that if there has been any wrongdoing, those responsible for it can be held to account and if appropriate, safeguarding processes can be improved,” it added.