UK supermarket giant Tesco has suspended the supply of avocados from agricultural firm Kakuzi over systemic human rights abuses.
The grocery retailer announced the move after law firm Leigh Day said Sunday it had initiated legal action against UK firm Camellia, whose subsidiary runs the site.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 79 Kenyans at London’s High Court, accuses the subsidiary Kakuzi of employing security guards alleged to have perpetrated killings, rape, attacks and false imprisonment since 2009.
According to Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, Kakuzi supplies avocados to several UK supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “Any form of human rights abuse in our supply chain is unacceptable.
“We have been working closely with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), alongside other ETI members, to investigate this issue and ensure measures have been taken to protect workers.
“However, in light of additional allegations published, we have suspended all supply whilst we urgently investigate.”
Sainsbury’s told the Sunday Times: “We continue to work closely with other UK retailers and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) to urgently investigate and address these reports.”
Camellia, a global conglomerate which employs 78,000 people worldwide, said in a statement it bought a 50.7 percent stake in Kakuzi in the 1990s, but that it did not have “operational or managerial control”.
“Kakuzi is investigating the allegations so that if there has been any wrongdoing, those responsible for it can be held to account and if appropriate, safeguarding processes can be improved,” it added.
Leigh Day said former Kakuzi employees at the 140-square kilometres plantation in central Kenya, which is also a major source of macadamia nuts, pineapples and timber, are among the 79 claimants.
The lawsuit is being brought with the support of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), it added.
However, in response, Kakuzi in a statement seen by Khusoko, it said: “The Sunday Times article refers to a British Estate in Kenya. We are not a British estate. We are a proudly Kenyan Company with 1,300 shareholders, the majority being Kenyan and have been trading on the Nairobi Securities Exchange for over 50 years.”
Kakuzi strongly refutes the accusations by Leigh Day that “The company has little understanding of how to respond appropriately to serious Human Rights Issues.” We are on record as providing fully funded independent legal advice and professional counselling services for any claimant as part of a dispute resolution process recognized under the Kenyan Constitution.
Kakuzi Plc is a dually listed company trading on both the Nairobi and the London Stock Exchange. It engages in the cultivation, manufacture, and marketing of tea, growing, and marketing of avocados, livestock farming, growing of macadamia and forestry development.