Human rights

UK company pays out 8m euros over Kenyan rights abuses and Malawi rape

Avocado farming in Kandara, Murang’a county, Kenya.
Avocado farming in Kandara, Murang’a county, Kenya. © AFP - Kevin Midigo

British company Camellia Group has settled a legal claim with a number of Malawian women and Kenyans over allegations of sexual harassment and serious human rights abuses. Camellia has extensive operations across the African continent, producing macadamia, tea and avocados.

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“The settlement the parties have reached provides individual compensation for the claimants, who demanded damages as victims of human rights abuses,” said Daniel Leader, a lawyer with Leigh Day, who brought the Kenyan case to the High Court in London.

The allegations in Kenya stemmed from abuses against local residents by security personnel employed by Kakuzi Plc, a company within the Camellia Group.

Financial compensation to 85 victims was agreed, although the sum remains confidential.

Food producer and exporter Kakuzi operates in Kenya’s Murang’a county and occupies some 39,300 acres, as RFI has previously reported.

The company is a colonial throwback and some 10,000 squatters lay claim to the land where Kakuzi’s farms are situated, blaming the company for occupying their ancestral home, with land ownership out of reach for many.

Besides the settlement, Kakuzi have agreed to establish a mechanism to deal with any allegations of human rights abuses, build new roads and employ safety marshals to give communities better access to amenities and provide reassurance to those using thoroughfares.

The company has also agreed to survey and demarcate some 150 acres of land, previously donated by Kakuzi, build two community centres, and help establish a sustainable charcoal business.

Ground-breaking settlement

In a separate case also against Camellia, Leigh Day announced on Sunday that they had settled claims against the London-listed company for allegations of rape and gender-based violence on Malawian tea estates.

Camellia operates farms in Mulanje and Thyolo districts of Malawi, through a subsidiary called Eastern Produce Malawi.

“I am delighted that we have been able to reach such a ground-breaking settlement,” said Sapna Malik, a lawyer at Leigh Day, who represented the 36 women.

The settlement includes compensation, as well as initiatives to improve safety for female employees, training programmes and improvements to community facilities.

A regulatory news update to the London Stock Exchange said Camellia had settled the Kenyan claim for more than five million euros and in Malawi for two-and-a-half million.

Better working relations

Camellia said the settlements were reached in both cases without any admission of liability, saying in Malawi the settlement took place at a “very early stage, before service of legal proceedings, and so avoids, most importantly for the women making these claims, drawn out and costly litigation”.

The company, which has a market capitalisation of nearly 250 million euros, said the settlement of the Kenyan claims would help it work better with local people.

“The settlement is intended not only to resolve the claims themselves, but also to help Kakuzi to strengthen its relations with the local communities and to continue to support the thousands of smallholder farmers who rely on Kakuzi to get their avocados to market,” said Camellia.

In the same regulatory news update, Camellia said its profit for 2020 would be ahead of market expectations hitting 17 million euros with better than expected trading in its agricultural division.

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