Del Monte Kenya pineapple plantation at centre of human rights abuse allegations
Fruit giant Del Monte is accused of betraying its human rights pledges with allegations against security guards of violent beatings and the rape of villagers living near to its pineapple plantation in Kenya.
Posted on 21 June 2023
Del Monte’s Thika plantation in Kenya is one of three principal production and procurement areas for Del Monte’s pineapples worldwide. Del Monte’s prepared pineapple products are primarily sourced from Kenya. Del Monte’s net pineapple sales in 2022 were US$ 584.6 million or 13% of the group’s total net sales, with 21% or U$ 122.7 million being concentrated in Europe.
Del Monte pineapple products are widely available and stocked at major UK supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Morrisons and Waitrose.
The global food manufacturer is facing a legal compensation claim by 134 people living in impoverished communities around its Thika plantation over serious human rights abuses by security guards.
The guards are accused of five deaths, five rapes and serious, often life-changing injuries, caused by consistently brutal and degrading behaviour with no regard for the lives, wellbeing or human dignity of their victims.
Villagers describe being kicked, beaten and left unconscious by the use of whips or of metal bars, batons and machetes, apparently as a punishment for or deterrent against the theft of pineapples.
There are also allegations of sexual humiliation and a number of women detail rapes by the security guards deployed by Del Monte at the plantation.
Sometimes the guards simply abandoned villagers after their beatings. On other occasions they were taken to the local police station, where they were often charged and imprisoned for weeks or months for stealing pineapples.
The villagers are represented by law firm Leigh Day which has written to the company outlining the many allegations.
Leigh Day say that if true, it is unlikely that Del Monte management were unaware of such excessive and deplorable conduct and the company should therefore take responsibility for it.
Yet the conduct of the security guards deployed by Del Monte is completely at odds with the company’s human rights pledges, to comply with the highest standards of ethics and responsibility, for example:
Gianpaolo Renino, Vice President Europe & Africa, (and director of Del Monte (UK) Limited, Del Monte Europe Limited and Del Monte Foods International Limited; as well as Del Monte Kenya Limited) said:
“Corporate Social Responsibility activities have always been extremely important to our operations in Europe and Africa. Corporate Social Responsibility is a constant priority that we believe is essential to long-term profitability and value creation. Our activities in Kenya are a clear example of how Fresh Del Monte Produce is taking care of our local communities.”
Del Monte is due to respond to the claims by 22 June, 2023.
International team partner Richard Meeran, who represents the 134 clients, said:
“The allegations of human rights abuses by Del Monte’s security guards in Kenya indicate a modus operandi designed to deter pineapple theft that is brutal, and systemic and which is completely at variance with that of a business that respects human rights. It is right that these allegations, and Del Monte’s responsibility for them, are tested in court.”
Examples of the human rights abuse claims are:
On 8 May 2020, Client 1 was walking home on a public road that passes through Del Monte farms. He found a pineapple on the ground, Client 1 was hungry, so he picked it up and started to eat it. Client 1 saw a vehicle coming towards him, it stopped and five guards alighted. They asked him where he got the pineapple from and he told them he found it on the ground. One guard slapped him on the face and told him to eat the pineapple unpeeled. Client 1 told them it was impossible.
The guards then began to beat him all over his body with batons and wooden sticks, and he was knocked unconscious. When he regained consciousness he was in hospital, where it was found that his leg was broken. His recovery lasted for around six months, during which Client 1 required repeated x-rays.
In or around May 2022, Client 2 was travelling on his friend’s boda boda. Along the way they came across a security vehicle that had blocked the road. Inside the vehicle were six security guards deployed by Del Monte. The guards beat Client 2 and his friend with sticks, slapped him and kicked him. The guards were carrying a knife. They took a pineapple and made a hole in it. Client 2 was made to remove his trousers and insert his penis into the pineapple. When he tried to resist, he was beaten further. The eyebrow of his right eye was cut with the knife and his shoulder dislocated. Client 2 and his friend were then taken to a police station where an officer told the guards that they could not accommodate them because they were severely wounded. The guards were told to take Client 2 to hospital. The guards took Client 2 and left him at the gate of a hospital.
On 13 October 2022, Client 3 was on her way back from a funeral with another woman. They were offered a lift home by two security guards in their vehicle but the car soon left the main road and drove into the bushes, which Client 3 understood to be Del Monte land. The guards forced Client 3 and the other woman to exit the car, threw them to the ground and raped them. Two other security guards found them and congratulated the guards assaulting the women. They also allowed their dog to scratch Client 3. After the sexual assault, the guards took Client 3 back to their vehicle and threw her out by the street. There, she was picked up and driven to Thika. In the morning she went to a health centre where her wounds were treated and she was given medication to prevent HIV infection.
On 23 January 2021, Client 4 had gone to collect firewood near to a Del Monte farm. She saw people inside the farm being chased by three security guards. The people who were being chased passed by where she was and the security guards followed. When they came to where she was, they asked Client 4 if she was among those being chased. She said no and explained that she was collecting firewood, but the guards insisted. The guards became angry, one guard grabbed her mouth and told her to be quiet. She wanted to scream but he held her mouth so that she could not. As the guard pulled her away from where she was, she tripped on a hole in the ground and fell. She landed on a stone on her ribs. The security guard who had pulled her also fell over. He continued to hold her mouth every time she tried to scream, he bit her on her arms, and he slapped her. Client 4 feared that the guard was going to rape her. One of the other guards had a dog, he was telling the dog to bite her and it did. Client 4 thinks that the dog was also biting the guard and that this is why he got up and left her there. The next day, Client 4 went for treatment.
On or around 26 October 2020 Client 5 was at a farm working on some tomatoes near to a Del Monte farm. As he was making his way home, security guards approached him and released a dog. The dog began mauling Client 5, gouging out his eye. The guards, about eight of them, then hit Client 5 with an iron bar and he lost consciousness. He later woke up in hospital, where he had been taken by members of his local area.
Katharina Theil is a senior associate solicitor in the international department.