Cayman-registered Del Monte says it’s not liable for Kenyan plantation violence

Cayman Compass | 27 March 2024

Cayman-registered Del Monte says it’s not liable for Kenyan plantation violence

By Norma Connolly

Facing a civil lawsuit over killings allegedly carried out by its security staff at a pineapple plantation near Nairobi, food company Fresh Del Monte is claiming it cannot be sued in Kenya because it is registered in the Cayman Islands.

Two human rights group and 10 individuals filed the suit in December against the multinational company over accusations of violence that have resulted in several deaths at its 15-square-mile farm.

According to local and international media reports, Florida-based Fresh Del Monte claimed that, because its company is registered in the Cayman Islands, it would not be liable in the case. Both Fresh Del Monte and its Kenyan subsidiary, Del Monte Kenya, are named in the suit.

The lawsuit was filed following an investigation and reports by the UK’s Guardian newspaper and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in June last year about killings, assaults and rapes allegedly committed by the farm’s guards.

Since that exposé, Del Monte has replaced its local guards with staff from international security firm G4S, and is currently advertising for a ‘human rights manager’ at the farm.

Following a backlash that included some major British supermarkets suspending sales of Del Monte Kenya pineapples, the company invited social auditor Partner Africa to carry out a human rights impact assessment. While that report, completed in November, has not been released, a summary of it was sent to UK stores the following month.

The Guardian, which says it has seen the assessment findings, reported that Partner Africa had concluded that the farm was causing major human rights harm across multiple areas to its staff and to people living nearby.

On Thursday, 14 March, the High Court in Thika, Kenya, ruled the case could be amended, meaning additional claimants can be added.

Del Monte argued in court filings in response to the suit that Del Monte Kenya is a “wholly owned Kenyan registered subsidiary”, and is willing to respond to the allegations. However, it claimed its parent company, Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., is incorporated in George Town, Cayman Islands, and is therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Kenyan court.

In a notice of motion to the court, Fresh Del Monte stated that it had “no registered office or place of business in the Republic of Kenya and has been improperly enjoined as a party in these proceedings”.

It continued, “There is a real danger of [Fresh Del Monte], which is a foreign corporation domiciled and resident outside the jurisdiction of this honourable court being forced to defend, at great expense, a futile set of proceedings in a court that lacks the requisite jurisdiction over it.”

The company’s lawyers had also argued before Lady Justice Florence Muchemi that the lawsuit was “without basis, scandalous, frivolous and vexatious”.

Since the Guardian and Bureau of Investigative Journalism report in June, which detailed the deaths of three men over the past four years, there has been further violence at the plantation. Over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day last year, the bodies of four men were found dumped in a river near the farm.

The massive plantation, which is surrounded by fencing, is regularly targeted by pineapple thieves, and the allegations of violence stem from the security guards’ responses to those trespassers.

The civil suit filed with the High Court in Kenya describes “conflicts with the security personnel deployed by Del Monte, who assault, beat, torture, maim, rape and/or kill the trespassers”.
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