We demand full remedy for the harm caused to workers, host communities and other groups
The oppressive economic models in the world have over time given unfettered influence to companies leading to business operations which have no regards for human rights and public interests, enshrined in many national, regional and international governance and human rights frameworks. Kakuzi Limited, a subsidiary of Camellia PLC based in the UK, and which has been doing business in Kenya for more 70 years remains part of these unabated corporate-related violations. Atrocities and malpractices allegedly committed by the company include among others: bad corporate governance; abominable labour injustices; wanton violence, including causing grievous bodily harm and killings; sexual and gender-based violence committed by its guards and gross, historical land injustices which have dispossessed more than 13 neighboring communities within Murang’a and the adjacent counties.
These form the core issues against which the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC); Ndula Resource Centre (NRC) and the impacted communities have been advocating for since 2003 with very limited action by the company. Rather than accept liability and provide the requisite remedies for the indigent and poor communities affected, the company has consistently abused its economic, political and legal muscle to either frustrate or overwhelm the advocacy initiatives within the different justice and accountability mechanisms at all levels in the society. In a nutshell, Kakuzi has done everything possible to thwart efforts by the affected groups to get justice. While this has been the case over time, the developments and engagements below during the last 6 or so years attest to this conduct.
To begin with and in 2014, when residents of Kangangu-Gikono went on a peaceful protest to demand that Kakuzi opens up the blocked public roads, they were met with terror and unmatched force. As if beating and maiming them was not bad enough, Kakuzi dragged the poor community to court on grounds of trespass. The matter would later be quashed in 2016 with the court observing that the right to assembly does not in itself constitute a criminal offence. To date, the effects of the injuries sustained by the protestors are still felt and yet Kakuzi has refused to compensate the victims for the grievous bodily harm they suffered.
Moreover and in September 2016, Kakuzi guards (armed with clubs or rungus) and armed police officers from the area descended on unarmed students from Kitito Primary and Secondary schools and community members who had staged a protest over land belonging to the two institutions. Kakuzi was irregularly claiming land belonging to the local schools and Catholic church. Many students and two journalists who were reporting the incident were caught up and badly injured by the guards. To date, their issues remain unresolved.
In June 2018, the company’s security guards were accused of killing a 28 year old man, allegedly for stealing avocadoes. Early this year, a 31 year old man suffered grievous bodily harm after Kakuzi guards severed his left arm. Around June this year, a 14 year old girl is reported to have been raped by a guard and infected with HIV. Justice has remained elusive for the 3 survivors of Kakuzi related injustices.
Kakuzi’s approach to all these claims levelled against it has been deny, deny deny! It is this defeatist attitude and continued violations by the company and its security guards that has pushed us to explore the following actions.
First and in 2017, the KHRC in partnership with NRC and SOMO supported the affected communities to petition the National Land Commission (NLC) for the opening up of blocked public roads and a laying claim on their ancestral land. The NLC ordered a non-renewal of Kakuzi leases until all historical land injustices are resolved. Additionally, the NLC declared a reversal of Kakuzi land leases from the current 999 land tenure to 99 years. Still, Kakuzi has refused to open up the blocked public roads and easements and to surrender the public facilities that include schools, water points, hospitals, markets and police stations.
Moreover and in its characteristic nature, the company quickly moved to court challenging the mandate of the NLC to hear the matter. Indeed, Kakuzi and its parent company-Camellia PLC- have so many unresolved cases and claims with many stakeholders in and out of court. It no wonder Camellia, the company which owns a 50.7 per cent stake in Kakuzi, is reported to have spent more than Sh500 million (USD million) in legal expenses by mid-2020.
Moreover, KHRC and NRC invited the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights to visit Kakuzi in 2018. In its report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2019, the Working Group called upon Kakuzi to supplement police investigations of alleged wrongdoing with its own credible investigations and to strengthen oversight mechanisms for security guards. Regrettably, fresh violations have been reported even after the visit by the UN Working Group.
In 2018, KHRC in partnership with NRC and SOMO brought to the attention of the Rainforest Alliance-a voluntary market certification body-the labour rights violations reported in Kakuzi. Unsurprisingly, Kakuzi attempted to influence the outcome of the process but our claims were validated, leading to a revocation of Rainforest’s certification for Kakuzi for one year. We are yet to understand the basis on which the renewal was granted as the violations that caused the cancellation remain unabated.
Further, in April 2019, the KHRC filed a complaint with the Ethical Trade Initiative-a UK multi-stakeholder initiative that promotes ethical markets. The ETI commissioned an independent investigation that found Kakuzi culpable of the claims raised by the KHRC. We are yet to establish whether ETI proposed or initiated any actions for Kakuzi to offer remedies to the impacted workers and host community.
Last but not the least, in August 2020; the deepened corporate impunity and capture of key institutions by Kakuzi and Camellia PLC pushed Leigh Day in partnership with KHRC, NRC and communities to seek redress with the UK Courts. The case relates to 79 Kenyans, who include former employees of the company, claiming serious abuse by security guards employed including killings, rape, attacks, false imprisonment and other forms of serious mistreatment, between 2009 and 2020. Again, our claims have been vindicated by the fact that Camellia is proposing an out of court settlement. While such is clearly “too little too late” an offer, we may make some considerations within the transitional justice parameters of securing effective compensation, rehabilitation and guarantee of non-repetition.
Based on the foregoing, Kakuzi cannot now claim it did not know of the violations reported recently by the UK Sunday Times and those raised by KHRC and NRC over the years. Instead of Kakuzi desperately attempting to sanitize itself by name-dropping the likes of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the ETI, it should focus on remedying the above injustices which have been validated by the relevant land justice and corporate accountability mechanisms.
Principles of human rights due diligence require that a business proactively manages the potential and actual adverse human rights impacts of its actions or omissions. From the behavior of this multinational, it is clear that Kakuzi does not care about its human rights obligations in the management of its affairs. The fact that Kakuzi has had a steady market in Europe over the years further confirms that the European retailers failed to undertake due diligence on their part to ascertain the status of the Kakuzi supply chain from which they source produce. The government of Kenya has also failed the affected citizens and the nation at large for not holding the company to account over its vicious, oppressive and criminal conduct.
We are aware that Kakuzi now claims to be addressing the human rights situation. The appointment of a new chairman to its board, the establishment of the Independent Human Rights Advisory Committee and an operational-level grievance mechanism are all desperate attempts to appease the UK market. Kakuzi started by denying ALL claims levelled against it and embarked on massive interference with claimants including threatening and intimidating them.
Additionally, Kakuzi has been luring unsuspecting claimants to withdraw from the UK suit as well as engaging in unscrupulous compensation of the victims. It is therefore difficult to imagine the proposed ‘reforms’ are not mere gimmicks to re-attract the lost market. We remain disturbed by the fact that the current ‘reforms’ at Kakuzi fail to address past human rights abuses. Further, we are concerned that neither workers nor the host community have been involved in any of the measures that the company now purports to institute.
We therefore urge the UK retailers, consumers and all stakeholders to remain vigilant of the actions of Kakuzi. We warn all of Kakuzi market that we are watching to see what happens at the start of the peak season for avocado harvest in Kenya in May 2021.
In view of the foregoing, the KHRC, SOMO and Ndula Resource Centre join Kakuzi workers, communities and other impacted groups in demanding that:
- Regarding the suspended markets and previous investigations:
- The status quo for Kakuzi’s suspended UK markets remains until the human rights situation in the company and the host community is fully and unconditionally remedied.
- The UK-based Ethical Trading Initiative to make public the report of the investigations that were conducted in Kakuzi in 2019 and which confirmed that KHRC’s claims were valid. This report is about the experiences of the people who work and live around Kakuzi, the findings of which must therefore be made known to them.
- Rainforest Alliance (RA) publishes the findings which justified the renewal of Kakuzi’s RA certification after its cancellation in 2018.
- To prove its commitment in resolving the many violations and guarantee of non-repetition:
- Kakuzi makes an unconditional public apology to its workers and host community for the adverse human rights impacts visited upon them over the period the company has been in operation.
- In line with the gesture displayed by Camellia PLC, in 7 days, Kakuzi withdraws all the preposterous and insidious cases it instituted against the workers, community members among others actors.
- The said withdrawal should pave way for an out of court settlement with the differently aggrieved parties where different components of remedies will be considered.
- To show commitment in resolving historical land injustices within the next 7 days:
- Kakuzi opens with immediate effect, ALL public roads in line with the directives issued by the National Land Commission on 7th February 2019.
- ALL communities displaced by Kakuzi through systemic evictions be resettled with immediate effect.
- The community living in Ithanga Phase V be issued with individual title deeds with immediate effect.
- Further, ALL public facilities including hospitals, schools, markets, police stations that sit on land that was obtained by Kakuzi from the natives be issued with title deeds.
- The land on which Kakuzi sits be surveyed and its acreage publicly declared. ALL the surplus land to be immediately surrendered to the host community.
- Failure to do this, we shall initiate policy actions with the NLC and Parliament, as well as civic actions with the affected groups to ensure that social, economic, and political justice for the aggrieved victims is realized.
Statement issued by:
- Kenya Human Rights Commission.
- Ndula Resource Centre.
Wednesday, November 4, 2020.
Ithanga Phase V, Milimani, Kinyangi, Kitwamba-Kaloleni, Kitito, Kangangu-Gikono, Gaichanjiru Self-Help Farm, Gachagu, Gachagi, Makuyu Sisal, Gathangururu Self-Help Group.