The Del Monte logo on a phone
21.06.23 Environment

Del Monte security guards accused of brutal killings

Security guards working for the multinational food company Del Monte in Kenya have been accused of killing and brutally assaulting local villagers suspected of trespassing on its farm.

A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Guardian has uncovered extensive eyewitness accounts of violence alleged against security guards employed by Del Monte at its huge Kenyan pineapple farm, which supplies fruit to most UK supermarkets including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s.

The scale of the accusations has been captured by the law firm Leigh Day in a letter to Del Monte detailing 146 alleged incidents involving 134 locals over a decade. It includes claims of five deaths – all since 2019 – as well as reports of dozens of serious injuries and beatings that have left people unconscious. It also includes five allegations of rape.

Leigh Day began gathering evidence after being informed of the violence allegations by TBIJ.

In addition to the incidents included in the law firm’s letter is the 2013 death of a 27-year-old man whose body was found in a dam on the farm. His cause of death was given as drowning but eyewitnesses say he was beaten by Del Monte guards and thrown into the dam. None of the six deaths covered in our investigation has resulted in any convictions.

Allegations of violence include an unprovoked attack on a group of 14 people returning from a party. Local police are accused of turning a blind eye to the incident and police are also known to use Del Monte’s vehicles.

Del Monte said that it took the allegations “extremely seriously” and that it has “instituted a full and urgent investigation into them”.

Much of the violence has been against people who have raided the farm for fruit. Virtually all the pineapples grown there by Del Monte are shipped abroad, which has led to a black market in stolen fruit in the impoverished local area.

Leigh Day partner Richard Meeran, who represents the 134 clients, said: “Our clients’ allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by Del Monte’s security guards in Kenya entail a level and pattern of violence, brutality and humiliation that is widespread and gut-wrenching. It is right that these allegations, and Del Monte’s responsibility for them, are tested in court.”

Tesco said it had suspended orders on all products sourced from the farm until an investigation is concluded. Waitrose said it expects its suppliers to comply with “strict ethical standards” and that it welcomed Del Monte’s review.

The British Retail Consortium, the industry body that represents UK supermarkets, said it welcomed Del Monte’s investigation and its “commitment to constant improvement in working practices”.

Sophie De Salis, sustainability policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium, added: “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.

“Following engagement with Del Monte, we welcome the independent review that addresses the broader context for these crimes and identifies areas for improvement, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

A spokesperson for Fresh Del Monte said: “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.”

Header image: The Del Monte brand logo in front of a fresh fruit display. Credit: David Esser / Alamy

Reporters: Matthew Chapman, Edwin Okoth and Emily Dugan
Impact producer: Miriam Wells
Project editors: Franz Wild, Chrissie Giles and Robert Soutar
Editor: Meirion Jones
Production Editors: Alex Hess and Frankie Goodway
Fact checker: Alice Milliken

Our Law for Change project is funded by David Graham and our Environment project is funded partly by Quadrature Climate Foundation and partly by the Hollick Family Foundation. None of our funders have any influence over our editorial decisions or output.