Bereaved families of people allegedly killed by security guards working for the food giant Del Monte have demanded a meeting with the company’s leadership.
Although it has been over a month since Del Monte launched an investigation into shocking claims of violence at its vast pineapple plantation in Kenya, the families affected say they have not been contacted by the company.
The allegations against Del Monte security guards, revealed by TBIJ and the Guardian last month, stretch back over a decade and include six killings.
One of these incidents, the death of 26-year-old Bernard Murigi Wanginye in April 2019, has resulted in five former guards being charged with murder. But the trial has not yet taken place despite a judge directing four years ago that it be “fast tracked”.
On Thursday, the families sent an open letter to four senior figures including Del Monte’s chief executive and chairman, Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh. “Despite the seriousness of what has happened to us and our families at the Del Monte pineapple farm, no one from Del Monte has ever contacted us or spoken to us,” it reads.
“Your company has told the media an investigation is underway and yet we, the affected families, have heard nothing from you. How can you be investigating if you have never spoken to us?
“We demand to be involved in the investigations that are being undertaken as they cannot be one sided while you sideline the victims.”
The letter was sent by the Kagama Community Action Forum, a group representing the local community and affected families. They include two mothers whose teenage sons were hospitalised last weekend after allegedly being knocked off their motorbikes by Del Monte security guards. The group says it has documented over 350 cases that require Del Monte’s “immediate intervention”.
Kenyan politicians have also started to speak out on the allegations. Joe Nyutu, the senator for Murang’a county, where the farm is located, last week issued a statement saying: “This continued brutality must come to a stop. [Del Monte] must take full responsibility for these actions. It’s either they shape up or ship out.”
In response to the alleged motorbike incident, Kenyan MP Betty Maina said: “Very many young children from [the local region] have suffered under the hands of the Del Monte farm. This madness must stop. Enough is enough.”
The issue was also raised in a trade committee meeting at the European Parliament on Wednesday.
The letter to Del Monte bosses states: “All these families and many more are crying for justice for their loved ones.” It also calls for the company to support victims with medical bills and compensation as well as asking that it “works with us to invest in our community”.
“We, the families affected, want to meet directly with Del Monte senior leadership, urgently, so you can hear our grievances directly from us about what has happened and understand the suffering we are facing,” the letter states. “Without this meeting and dialogue, we can have no faith that Del Monte is taking our concerns seriously.”
Separately, the law firm Leigh Day wrote to the company last month with allegations of 146 incidents of violence by Del Monte guards over the last decade involving 134 villagers, including five allegations of rape.
Del Monte told TBIJ: “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 long-standing 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 are being supported by an independent review by an expert human rights consultancy. We continue to fully support the Kenyan authorities' investigations to better understand the nature of these allegations.
“We are committed to constant improvements in the way we operate and adhere to the highest international human rights standards in all our businesses.”
Header image: The grave of Bernard Murigi Wanginye in Murang'a County, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otieno for the Guardian/TBIJ
Reporters: Matthew Chapman and Edwin Okoth
Project editors: Franz Wild and Chrissie Giles
Fact checker: Alex Hess
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