United Nations investigators have faulted a decision inviting Bidco Ltd into partnership with the United Nations Development Programme's – Business Call to Action – in Uganda.
In a draft report made public on November 8, the investigators said the allegations of Bidco’s engagement in human rights, labour and environmental violations were not adequately assessed.
"After the fieldwork and additional research, UN's Social and Environmental Compliance Unit concluded that the processes employed by UNDP for admission of Bidco were not consistent with UNDP policies," the draft Compliance Review report says.
The report warns that a partnership with Bidco “could adversely damage UNDP’s reputation and the communities it seeks to help”.
The UN further acknowledges that errors were made in the assessment of Bidco as a partner.
"(UN) staff identified several important risks – at least partially fulfilling the requirement to assess risks – but did not clearly follow up in a satisfactory way or characterise risks accurately," the report says.
It also indicates the UN staff evaluating Bidco did not provide details of the criticism, indicate whether and, or, how UNDP staff evaluated the controversies.
"e.g., whether staff discussed the controversies with the company or others, or indicate how the controversies had been, or would be, addressed," the report says.
The investigators, however, caution that their report in no way implies that Bidco has, or has not, violated human rights or is complicit in human rights violations.
"Such a determination is beyond the scope of this report, which is focused primarily on the adequacy of UNDP’s due diligence and related transparency in the context of the BCtA (Business Call to Action) project," the report says.
It adds that the Kenya-based Bidco Africa tried to distance itself from the allegations of land-grabbing and environmental destruction in Uganda.
"...but the UNDP investigators found there is a clear link between the company’s corporate structure, overseen by CEO Vimal Shah, and operations in Uganda," the report says.
The investigators also determined that Bidco’s claim of not being involved in land acquisition in Uganda is not accurate.
"Bidco Uganda also, apparently, was engaged in decisions and discussions related to the purchase. These activities mean if human rights violations were established, Bidco could be complicit in these violations," the report says.
It adds that the UN staff "appeared to rely heavily on assurances from the company” that there was no controversy surrounding the project in Uganda, and that there is no evidence that “company-provided information was verified” by staff.
On January 15 this year, Bidco Africa announced it had joined BCtA, a United Nations programme which is supported by USAid, UK Department for International Development and the Swedish, Dutch and Finnish governments.
On January 28, the Bugala Farmers Association delivered to the UNDP office in Kampala a petition addressed to UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, employees raising concerns about BCtA’s inclusion of Bidco.
On February 2016, the Bugala Farmers Association filed a complaint with the Social and Environmental Compliance Unit within the UN Office of Audit and Investigations.
The complaint stated that the United Nations had not performed sufficient due diligence on Bidco, which has engaged in human rights, labour and environmental violations in East Africa.
SECU launched a formal investigation, which saw investigators sent to Uganda to interview displaced and disenfranchised farmers.