UK supermarket giant Tesco has suspended supply of avacados from Kenyan supplier Kakuzi following claims of violating employees rights.
Britain’s biggest grocery retailer announced the move after 79 Kenyans through Leigh Day law firm launched a legal claim in the High Court in London against Kakuzi’s holding company Camellia Plc for alleged human rights abuses.
The Kenyans accuse the food producer and exporter of employing security guards alleged to have perpetrated horrific abuses including killings, sexual assault, attacks, false imprisonment, and other forms of serious mistreatment, between 2009 and 2020.
A Tesco spokesperson said on Monday that the supermarket does not condone any form of human rights abuse in its supply chain.
“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, ” the spokesperson said.
“However, in light of additional allegations published, we have suspended all supply whilst we urgently investigate.”
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 alleged 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 statement on Monday, Kakuzi Plc based in Murang’a County dismissed the human rights abuse claims.
The company claimed that an article published on UK’s newspaper The Sun was intended to damage its reputation and by association, its customers.
“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.” Kakuzi said.
The company added that some of the claims raised can well be heard and settled in Kenyan courts, dismissing Leigh Day’s claims that the Kenyan legal system is incapable of dealing with these cases.
“…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, ” the statement reads.