Allegations of systemic violence from Del Monte Plantations

Allegations of systemic violence from Del Monte Plantations

Last month, a joint investigation executed by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalist unveiled a series of brutal violence carried out by employees of fruit giant Del Monte. The Thika plantation in southern Kenya is one of three primary production and procurement sites for the business’ pineapple production worldwide, whose produce is subsequently exported globally, stocking shelves in major UK supermarkets including, Tesco, Waitrose, ASDA and Morrisons.


The guards are accused of employing excessive force against individuals suspected of trespassing on Del Monte's property, dating back to 2013, leading to brutal physical assaults, including rape, and even deaths. Alleged victims claimed that they were indiscriminately attacked by guards while traveling on public roads near or through the Del Monte land, which covers 40sq km. Some even describe being kicked, beaten, and rendered unconscious through the utilisation of whips, metal bars, batons, and machetes as a form of punishment or deterrent in response to pineapple theft.


UK Law Firm Leigh Day, who is representing the victims of the aforementioned abuses, stated that if such allegations are true, then it is unlikely that the business’ management were unaware of such brutal conduct, and therefore should take responsibility for this.


Furthermore, with the first allegation dating back to 2013, when Saidi Ngotho Ndungu, 27, was found dead in Del Monte's dam. Whilst the death certificate states that Ndungu died by ‘drowning’, eyewitness statements claim that a team of security guards beat him to death with wooden clubs. The company has had over a decade to investigate conflicting evidence with no progress.


In a letter written to Del Monte, Leigh Day is seeking compensation on behalf of the 134 villagers for 'serious human rights abuses', outlining the following violations: five fatalities, five instances of rape, and numerous severe, life-altering injuries resulting from persistently brutal and demeaning conduct, displaying utter disregard for the victims' lives, wellbeing, and human dignity. However, it is crucial not to overlook the far-reaching societal repercussions of these assaults on the local community. The incidents have instilled a pervasive sense of fear among those who merely pass through the land, uncertain whether they could become the next victims in this disturbing series of abuses.


As revealed in Leigh Day's comprehensive investigation, the guards' actions were deeply troubling. In some instances, they callously abandoned the villagers after subjecting them to brutal beatings. In other cases, they took matters further by turning the victims over to the local police, resulting in weeks or even months of imprisonment based on mere assumptions of pineapple theft. These distressing findings underscore the urgent need for accountability and justice for the affected communities.


In response, supermarket giant Tesco has decided to suspend any additional Del Monte orders from the Kenyan farm until the investigation is concluded, but they will continue to maintain Del Monte as a supplier.


A Tesco spokesperson said: 


“Any form of human rights abuse is clearly unacceptable and we expect our suppliers to protect the welfare of everyone working in our supply chains, as well as respecting the human rights of the communities in which they operate.”


Similarly, Morrisons commented in response to the investigations stating that it expects all its suppliers to comply with its strict ethical standards and is liaising closely with Del Monte, the Ethical Trading Initiative, the British Retail Consortium, and other stakeholders to ensure a thorough human rights assessment is completed.


Aligning with the aforementioned concerns, impACT underlines the critical significance of conducting a thorough and timely investigation into the multitude of human rights claims spanning the past decade. There is an urgent call for the investigatory bodies to delve deeper into the available evidence and crucial witness testimonies. Numerous reports from impACT over the past month have highlighted the benefits of protracted and degrees of separation from large, particularly western, conglomerates and abused local communities. Whilst local companies set up the conditions for resource extraction, conglomerates enter the local environment able to deny involvement in the creation of local conditions, and extract profit despite human rights abuses.


The allegations put forth by Leigh Day raise serious questions about Del Monte's awareness of such abuses. In light of this, it falls upon the business to take proactive measures in enhancing the regulation of their Corporate Social Responsibility activities. Such measures are vital not only for safeguarding their employees but also for protecting the well-being and rights of the local community residents. The onus lies on Del Monte to demonstrate genuine commitment and accountability in addressing these grave allegations and ensuring that justice prevails for all those affected.


Zoe Dales


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