PRAISE COMPANY

Farmers defend Kakuzi firm against cruelty claims

79 Kenyans sued UK firm that partially owns Kakuzi, claiming security guards are brutal

In Summary

• Farmers said company has been their source of livelihood and sanctions against its fruits are hurting them. Says company is fair and helps them greatly.

•  UK's Tesco won't accept avocadoes. 79 Kenyans filed suit in London's High Court, citing alleged brutality by security guards since 2009. They sued UK firm Camellia that partially owns Kakuzi.

Avocado farmer Esther Nyambura addressing journalists on Tuesday, October 13.
FIRM IS FAIR: Avocado farmer Esther Nyambura addressing journalists on Tuesday, October 13.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA

Fruit farmers in Murang’a county have strongly defended Kakuzi Limited Company against allegations of brutality by security guards.

The farmers said on Tuesday they have been supporting their families through the sale fruits to the company and partial closure of the UK market will greatly hurt their livelihoods.

The company exports 7,600 tons of fruit annually, including more than 600 tones from small-scale farmers mainly in Murang'a county.

The UK's largest supermarket Tesco has suspended purchase of avocadoes from Kakuzi Company, which is partially owned by UK firm Camellia. It cited a lawsuit filed by 79 Kenyans in London's High Court against Camellia.

Leih Day law firm, on behalf of the Kenyans, accused the company of hiring security guards who have engaged in numerous forms of brutality since 2009.

The lawsuit was supported by the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations.

A few days ago Tesco announced that it does not condone any human rights abuse in its supply chain. It said it has been working closely with the Ethical Trading Initiative to investigate and ensure measures are taken to protect workers.

Farmer Jackson Mwangi said he has sold fruits from his six-acre orchard to Kakuzi since 2007. He said the company has never paid him late and has empowered his family, enabling him to invest in the transport sector.

He said he has seen people stealing fruit and the cases are always forwarded to police.

Kakuzi head of corporate affairs Wilson Odiyo addressing journalists on Tuesday, October 13.
COMPANY OFFICIAL: Kakuzi head of corporate affairs Wilson Odiyo addressing journalists on Tuesday, October 13.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA

The company guards were accused of battering a 28-year-old man to death for allegedly stealing avocados. They were accused of raping 10 women and attacking villagers walking on roads passing through the company's farm.

Camellia released a statement saying it expected Kakuzi to ensure all allegations are exhaustively examined and justice is served if wrongdoing is uncovered.

The global conglomerate employs more than 78,000 people worldwide. It said in a statement it bought a 50.7 per cent stake in Kakuzi in the 1990s but did not have operational or managerial control.

Farmer Andrew Thuo said sanctioning the company directly punishes farmers who depend on the firm for survival.

He asked why the civil society did not go through the local legal systems to seek justice for the alleged victims without jeopardising the future of the farmers.

Farmer Esther Nyambura praised the firm for supporting the community. She said it installed and maintained numerous hand washing points in  neighbouring areas.

It also supports local schools and betters conditions for learners, she said.

Nyambura read malice in the market suspension, saying other fruits exporters locked out of local farms might have been involved.

“We have seen people coming to our farms and trying to coax us to engage with them and they were definitely not happy that we turned them down,” Nyambura added.

Farmer Jesse Mwangi said activists tried to bribe him, addresses reporters at Makuyu in Murang'a on Tuesday, October 13.
SUPPORTS FIRM: Farmer Jesse Mwangi said activists tried to bribe him, addresses reporters at Makuyu in Murang'a on Tuesday, October 13.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA

Farmer Jesse Mwangi said human rights activists tried in vain to bribe him into giving false testimony against the company.

This followed his erroneous arrest by Kakuzi security guards for alleged trespass. The guards released him unconditionally.

Mwangi said activists forged medical documents indicating he had sustained head injuries and a dislocated shoulder. He said he was promised a large sum of money if the lawsuit was successful.

“Three months later, I decided not to go through with the scam, I approached Kakuzi and the matter was ended,” he said.

Kakuzi head of corporate affairs Wilson Odiyo said the firm has contracts with more than 3,000 small-scale farmers.

When conflicts occur, the firm has internal dispute resolution mechanisms, he said.

“When a matter is of a criminal nature, then it is forwarded to the police. We have never hidden cases of wrongdoing by our employees,” he said.

Odiyo said the firm has an open-door policy with the surrounding community and anyone can walk in and seek support for communal projects.

“And that is why we wonder why the victims in this case chose to remain anonymous. How is Kakuzi expected to solve issues of employees that we do not know about?” he asked.

Odiyo said Kakuzi is willing to discuss any arising matters if any of the affected persons come forward.

Last year, a section of UK customers through the Ethical Training Institute raised issues about the firm and carried out an audit for a month.

(Edited by V. Graham)