Seventy-nine Kenyans have launched a legal claim in the High Court in London against the Camellia Plc (and other UK companies in the Camellia Group) for alleged human rights abuses by its Kenyan subsidiary, Kakuzi Plc.
The case is being brought with the support of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO).
Camellia Plc is listed on the London stock exchange and is a large agricultural business which owns plantations around the world, employs over 78,000 people and in 2019 generated revenues in excess of £290 million.
The 79 Kenyans, who are represented by Leigh Day, include former employees of Kakuzi, claim serious abuse by security guards employed by Kakuzi, including killings, sexual assault, attacks, false imprisonment, and other forms of serious mistreatment, between 2009 and 2020.
The incidents of violence include the following:
• Ten women were sexually assaulted by Kakuzi’s security guards, including a 16-17-year-old girl who was abused after being caught collecting firewood on the company’s land and another who was violently assaulted, also after being caught collecting wood, by two guards. Some became pregnant and contracted HIV as a result.
• A young man was beaten to death by Kakuzi’s security guards in May 2018 for
allegedly stealing avocados.
• Men and women were beaten, injured, or unlawfully detained by Kakuzi’s security guards, including a man who sustained serious long-term injuries after being kicked in the head by a guard wearing heavy boots.
• Thirty-four men and women involved in a protest on 2 September 2014 were violently attacked by Kakuzi’s security guards, including with a rungu.
• A journalist and cameraman reporting on a protest led by children at Gitutu Secondary School in September 2016 were violently assaulted by Kakuzi’s security guards.
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 organizations.
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.
In a Company Announcement on 8 October 2020, Camellia claimed that it has “recognized alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) mechanisms locally so that any allegations can be properly examined.” Further, it claimed that investigations are being “hindered by UK lawyers Leigh Day’s insistence on anonymity”.
But these accounts are apparently inaccurate. Camellia proposed ADR only if the legal claims in the UK were withdrawn and if the Claimants were forced to use Kenyan lawyers paid for by the Kakuzi, instead of their chosen lawyers. The victims have since rejected the proposal.
Second, the victims who have insisted on anonymity since they fear reprisals by Kakuzi guards and others. They have offered to disclose their identities to the Defendants in a manner that allows the claims to be investigated but which meets their security concerns.
Camellia has flatly refused this and insists that the identities of the victims should be disclosed without any safeguards.
The case lodged at the High Court is against three British companies:
Camellia Plc, Linton Park Plc and Robertson Bois Dickson Anderson Limited. It is claimed that all three have a duty of care towards the claimants because they intervened in, controlled, supervised and advised Kakuzi.
Leigh Day international team partner Daniel Leader who is leading the case said: “The Kenyan companies owned by Camellia Plc are alleged to have committed systemic human rights abuses over many years to villagers who live next to their plantation. Camellia has proposed mediation with the victims only if the legal claims in the UK are withdrawn.
“Unsurprisingly, the victims have rejected this proposal. Instead of providing a remedy to these victims, the corporate response to date shows that the company has little understanding of how to respond appropriately to serious human rights issues.”
Mary Kambo, of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, said: “Kakuzi workers and host communities have known nothing but terror in the last 50 years. As if pushing them out of their fertile ancestral land is not enough, Kakuzi is reported to rape, maim and kill.
“The company continues to make a complete mockery of what constitutes responsible business conduct even when it claims to contribute to advancing social practices in Kenya. It is baffling how Kakuzi behaves as if it is a law unto itself.”
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Lydia de Leeuw, a researcher at SOMO said: “We have been investigating and monitoring the abuses related to the Kakuzi farm since 2017, together with KHRC and the Ndula Resource Center. During those years, Camellia has failed to prevent and address human rights abuses from happening at this farm, which it is required to do.