Britain’s biggest grocery retailer, Tesco, has declined to reinstate the supply of avocados from Kakuzi, a subsidiary of UK based firm Camellia over unresolved human right abuses spanning over a decade ago.
Top management of the troubled vast Murang’a based agricultural plantation has been unable to make a turnaround and streamline employees and community welfare.
Sources within Kakuzi top leadership intimated to The Informer that the much internally touted reforms to rebrand corporate image are “inadequate to the outstanding human right violations, cosmetic and inconsequential to warrant Tesco reinstate us (Kakuzi) given the gravity of the issues raised by Leigh Day law firm in the London High Court.” Our source revealed.
Through an update published by Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in April this year, a global oversight body that exists to improve working conditions in global supply chains by developing effective approaches to implementing the ETI Base Code of labour practice, Kakuzi and its UK parent company Camellia reached an agreement to engage with Leigh Day in February, 2021.
Tesco banned Kakuzi as its supplier on October 11, 2020 pending investigations into alleged gross human rights violations ranging from murder, rape, assault and imprisonment against its employees and the neighbouring community members.
Supermarket chains Sainsbury’s and Lidl also suspended Kakuzi supplies last year in the wake of the adverse reports.
A year later, the ban is yet to be lifted.
Kakuzi’s net profit for the first six months of this year dipped 28.6 per cent to Sh194.6 million compared to Sh272.8 million in the review period, attributed to Covid-19 lockdowns and related restrictions by the company.
Interestingly, earlier, Kakuzi, a Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed firm through its Kent-based parent company Camellia Plc in August last 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.
Nicholas Ng’ang’a has since replaced Graham as the board chairman.
“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 UK-listed company Camellia owns 50.7 per cent of Kakuzi.
Law firm Leigh Day said that 79 Kenyans had launched a legal claim in the High Court in London against Camellia for alleged human rights abuses by security guards employed by Kakuzi, its Kenyan subsidiary.
The allegations, dating from 2009 to January 2020, include rapes, attacks on local villagers, and a man being beaten to death, Leigh Day said.
The Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed Kakuzi this week pledged to accelerate human rights reforms to comply with international standards.
Camellia and its local subsidiary are trying to win back the confidence of customers in Europe who value ethical corporate behaviour nearly as much as the quality of produce.
The value of avocado supplies by Kakuzi to the UK and other countries in Europe in the half-year period to June this year fell by 52.88 per cent to Sh137.2 million from Sh291.2 million in a similar period a year earlier, according to Kakuzi’s latest financial statements.
Resolving of the human rights disputes will be important in Kakuzi’s readmission as a supplier of avocadoes to UK supermarkets, including Tesco that suspended their orders after the alleged abuses.
The human rights row cost Kakuzi and its parent firm Camellia a total of Sh1.1 billion in legal fees and payments to the victims in Kenya and Malawi.
Tesco operates over 3,961 grocery stores in the UK and Ireland, including franchise stores.
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.
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.