16.01.24 Environment

Human rights report lays bare scale of crisis on Del Monte farm

Kenyan pineapple plantation is site of five recent deaths and extensive allegations of violence

Major human rights violations are being committed at a pineapple farm owned by the multinational food company Del Monte, according to the conclusions of an unpublished report. The vast farm in central Kenya is the site of five recent deaths as well as extensive allegations of violence by its guards spanning the course of a decade.

The findings, seen by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Guardian, are highly critical of Del Monte Kenya and include claims that company employees are working with a cartel of pineapple thieves to provide intelligence. It says the farm has serious problems with organised theft, losing crops to gangs on a large scale.

Last month, UK supermarkets were given a summary of the report, which was conducted by Partner Africa, an organisation that audits businesses’ social impact. Since then, police have been investigating the deaths of four men whose bodies were found in a river over Christmas after they went to the farm to steal pineapples. This follows the death of Peter Mutuku Mutisya, a man whose body was discovered in a dam on Del Monte’s farm in November.

Del Monte did not respond to a request for comment on the Partner Africa report.

In response to the most recent deaths, Del Monte said it was “cooperating with Kenyan authorities as they continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the four bodies retrieved from the Thika River”. The company said “footage from when the men attempted to steal pineapple shows no foul play on Del Monte’s part”.

Supermarkets told TBIJ and the Guardian they have called on Del Monte to conduct a robust investigation into the latest deaths. Two said they had withdrawn products from their shelves.

TBIJ and the Guardian first published allegations of violence and deaths at the hands of security guards at the Kenyan farm last summer. The law firm Leigh Day also wrote to Del Monte detailing 146 alleged incidents involving 134 locals.

Del Monte commissioned Partner Africa to carry out a human rights impact assessment of its Kenyan operations shortly afterwards. The resulting report describes an intense conflict between loosely organised groups of pineapple thieves and Del Monte security staff, with casualties on both sides. It concludes that the farm is causing numerous major human rights harms to local communities, Del Monte security staff and other Del Monte workers.

It also says that the problem of organised theft poses a heightened risk for ordinary bystanders, who are in danger of being mistaken for thieves and harassed by guards. TBIJ’s previous reporting included a 2021 incident when a minibus broke down on a public road going through the farm and its passengers were allegedly set upon by guards with wooden clubs.

Partner Africa sent its report to Del Monte on 17 November. The supermarkets were sent an executive summary by Del Monte in December, days after the Guardian and TBIJ reported the death of Mutisya.

Tesco stopped selling pineapples sourced from the farm last summer. Waitrose did the same in September.

Commenting on the four deaths over Christmas, a Tesco spokesperson said: “We were deeply concerned to learn of the new allegations concerning Del Monte’s Thika farm in Kenya … Both directly and through cross-industry bodies, we continue to urge Del Monte to take appropriate and robust action, including making sure these most recent deaths are credibly investigated.”

A spokesperson for Waitrose said: “We expect all our suppliers to comply with our strict ethical standards and we’re very concerned to hear of these very serious allegations.”

They added: “An executive summary of Partner Africa’s human rights impact assessment report was shared by Del Monte to ETI [Ethical Trading Initiative] members including us and other supermarkets on 18 December, and highlights areas of improvements Del Monte should make.”

Partner Africa’s report calls on Del Monte to immediately set about providing remediation to those “whose rights have been violated”. It also recommends that the company sets out a human rights action plan.

A spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium, the industry body that represents UK supermarkets, said: “These new allegations are extremely concerning. The welfare of people and communities in supply chains is fundamental to our members’ sourcing practices, and any practices that fall short of our high standards will not be tolerated.”

They added that a “credible action plan will need to be implemented following the recommendations” of the reports and that retailers would then assess progress.

Peter McAllister, executive director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, said his organisation had overseen the commissioning of Partner Africa’s human rights impact assessment and had “seen the full report which we believe is robust and credible”.

McAllister said the impact assessment “did not set out to investigate specific and individual cases, such as the tragic death of Peter Mutuku Mutisya, or the more recent deaths”.

“In our opinion an [impact assessment] is not a suitable tool for such an investigation and ETI would not be a competent authority,” he said. “We understand from Del Monte that an investigation has taken, or will take place. In our opinion it is very important that an effective, transparent, independent and robust investigation into the deaths of now five people to be essential, with whoever is found to be liable held to account.

“We will continue to raise with Del Monte the need for a credible and robust investigation of these deaths with clear accountability.”

This follows criticism that retailers had not done enough in response to the allegations reported last summer. Amnesty International, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission expressed concern about the way that both Del Monte and the supermarkets had dealt with allegations of killings.

One of their concerns was that the Partner Africa report would not investigate specific allegations. In November they jointly wrote to Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco urging the supermarkets to press Del Monte for a fully independent investigation with legal and fact-finding experts.

Peter Frankental, a programme director at Amnesty International said: “British supermarkets need to wake up to their own responsibility to bring an end to the alleged serious human rights violations that have been occurring in their supply chains in Kenya.”

Sara Clancy, executive director of Partner Africa, said the research team had engaged with “261 stakeholders, including 70 community members” to understand “human rights risks in relation to security and assess whether human rights compliant security arrangements are integrated into [Del Monte’s] policies and operations”.

In response to the allegations of violence and deaths reported last year, Del Monte said it took the claims “extremely seriously” and had “instituted a full and urgent investigation into them”. It also said it was “committed to constant improvements in the way we operate to adhere to the highest international human rights standards in all our businesses” and that the conduct alleged was in “clear violation” of the policies and procedures it has in place.

Main image: Del Monte’s pineapple plantation in Thika, central Kenya. Credit: Joerg Boethling/Alamy

Reporters: Grace Murray, Emily Dugan and Edwin Okoth
Environment editor: Robert Soutar
Deputy editors
: Katie Mark and Chrissie Giles
Editor: Franz Wild
Production editor: Alex Hess
Fact checker: Alex Hess

Our Environment project is funded partly by Quadrature Climate Foundation, partly by Hampshire Foundation and partly by the Hollick Family Foundation. None of our funders have any influence over our editorial decisions or output.

Subject:

  • Food
  • Supply chain
  • Human rights

Area:

  • Environment