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Camellia Plc faces legal claim in London for alleged systemic human rights abuses by its Kenyan subsidiary

Seventy-nine Kenyans have launched a legal claim in the High Court in London against Camellia Plc (and other UK companies in the Camellia Group)

Posted on 11 October 2020

Seventy-nine Kenyans have launched a legal claim in the High Court in London against 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.

Its Kenyan subsidiary, Kakuzi Plc, operates a vast (54-square mile) plantation in central Kenya. Its website says that its Hass avocados are accredited by M&S and part of Tesco’s Nurture Choice range.
Along with Sainsbury’s and Lidl, Tesco has confirmed to the Sunday Times that Kakuzi is a supplier of avocados to its stores in the UK.

Kakuzi is also a major grower of macadamia nuts, pineapples and timber.

The 79 Kenyans, who are represented by Leigh Day, include former employees of Kakuzi Plc, claim serious abuse by security guards employed by Kakuzi, including killings, rape, attacks, false imprisonment and other forms of serious mistreatment, between 2009 and 2020.

The Kakuzi farm occupies land acquired during the colonisation of Kenya by Britain in the early 20th century.  It also includes land seized from local communities during the Kenya Emergency (1952-1960) and land sold by European farmers who left Kenya after independence in 1963.

Many local communities live on or next to land registered to Kakuzi. Their water sources, paths, roads, and schools are on land registered to Kakuzi.

Although their access to basic services depend on access to roads through Kakuzi land, the claimants have suffered the abuse by security guards employed to protect Kakuzi land.

The incidents of violence include the following:

  • Ten women were raped by Kakuzi’s security guards, including a 16-17 year-old girl who was raped after being caught collecting firewood on the company’s land and another who was violently raped, 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 (wooden club)
  •  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 Kauzi guards over many years and which have been documented by local human rights organisations. 

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 Plc claims that it has “recognised alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) mechanisms locally so that any allegations can be properly examined.”  Further, it claims that investigations are being “hindered by UK lawyers Leigh Day’s insistence on anonymity”.

These accounts are 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 rejected this proposal.

Second, it is 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 which 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.  

  • Camellia Plc is a multi-national company based at Linton Park in Maidstone, Kent. It is the parent company of the Camellia group of companies and employs 78,000 people worldwide. Its annual revenue in 2019 was £291.5 million. It owns a 50.7 per cent share of Kakuzi.
  • Linton Park Plc is part of the Camellia Group and employs executives at the Linton Park offices. Until January 2018 it operated a regional office in Nairobi from where it ensured Camellia Plc’s corporate social responsibilities were upheld in its African operations.
  • Robertson Bois Dickson Anderson Limited is part of the Camellia Group and is a marketing and sales agent for Camellia Plc’s subsidiaries in Africa, including Kakuzi. In January 2018 it took over responsibility of the regional office in Nairobi from Linton Park Plc.

Leigh Day international team partner Daniel Leader is leading the case. He 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 remedy to these victims, the corporate response to date shows that the company has little understanding 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.”

Lydia de Leeuw, 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. 

“Camellia’s proposal of an “alternative dispute resolution” under the condition that victims abandon their legal claim in the UK appears to be a glaring attempt to undermine the victims’ access to remedy, and avoid liability for the abuses allegedly committed by its subsidiary. Camellia should undertake to prevent further abuses from occurring while letting justice in the UK case run its course."

Daniel Leader
Corporate accountability Diesel emissions claims Environment Group claims Human rights International litigation

Daniel Leader

International human rights, business human rights and corporate accountability lawyer