Kenya human rights commission to investigate alleged killings on pineapple farm
"Commission ‘concerned and disturbed’ by claims of lethal violence by security guards on Del Monte farm
Kenya’s national human rights body has launched an investigation into allegations of killings and assaults by security guards at a Del Monte pineapple farm in Thika that supplies most British supermarkets.
A joint investigation by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) published earlier this week uncovered claims from villagers of violence by guards at the plantation, including three alleged killings in the last four years.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) said it was “greatly concerned and disturbed” by the alleged incidences of human rights violations.
The commission, which was established by an act of parliament in Kenya, also called on Del Monte to “take immediate actions to ensure effective remedy” for those who have alleged violence.
Del Monte said in a previous statement that it took the allegations “extremely seriously” and had launched a “full and urgent” investigation into the claims. It said it was committed to international standards of human rights.
The vast plantation which covers at least 40 sq km (15 sq miles) is the single largest exporter of Kenyan produce to the world and directly employs 237 security guards. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, Ocado and Morrisons are among the supermarkets that stock its fruit. Tesco said it had suspended orders on all products sourced from the farm until an investigation is concluded.
Guards on the farm are typically armed with wooden clubs called rungus, whose use in security is legal and common in Kenya, but the claims investigated by the Guardian and TBIJ suggest their use of violence has been excessive.
The deaths reported include the allegation that a man died of injuries last December aged 52 – a week after four people claimed they saw him being beaten and stamped on by Del Monte guards.
Last August another man, aged 22, was found dead on a road by the farm. Two men who went with him to steal pineapples that night claimed they had last seen him being beaten by Del Monte guards on the farm.
Five Del Monte guards were also charged over the death of a man who was allegedly beaten to death on the farm in 2019, according to court records. The five former guards, who were immediately sacked by Del Monte after their arrest, have been in prison awaiting trial for nearly four years, with no date yet set.
In a statement signed by KNCHR’s head of public affairs, Dominic Kabiru, the commission called on state agencies “to hasten and conduct structured investigations”.
Pineapple thieves said they were reluctant to report alleged violence because they were afraid they would be arrested for theft. The Kenyan police service has not yet responded to requests for comment.
The commission also called on Del Monte “to ensure sufficient measures are put in place to prevent such occurrences in the future”. It said this would mean making “structural changes to their operations to ensure effective remedial mechanisms are put in place” in relation to the allegations.
Del Monte has been contacted for comment.
A spokesperson for Fresh Del Monte said in an earlier statement: “We take these allegations extremely seriously and have instituted a full and urgent investigation into them. The conduct alleged in these cases is in clear violation of Fresh Del Monte’s longstanding commitment to human rights and the comprehensive policies and procedures we have in place to ensure our operations respect the dignity of all individuals.
“Our proactive investigations continue and will be supported by an independent review by a specialist human rights consultancy. We continue to fully support the Kenyan authorities’ investigations, including into the death of John Rui Karia. We are committed to constant improvements in the way we operate to adhere to the highest international human rights standards in all our businesses.”
Sophie de Salis, sustainability policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium, which represents UK supermarkets, said: “We welcome Del Monte’s investigation into these appalling allegations to delve deeper into the broader context of these crimes and commitment to constant improvements in working practices. Protecting the welfare of workers and respecting communities in supply chains is fundamental to our members’ sourcing practices and any practices falling short of our high standards are not tolerated.”