NGOs urge Unilever to redress harm to survivors of 2007 post-election attacks at tea plantation in Kenya; company responds

Four human rights organizations sent a letter to Unilever PLC’s CEO, Paul Polman, asking to reconsider the way the company is dealing with a case brought in the UK court by the survivors of post-election attacks at one of its tea plantations in Kenya in 2007.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Unilever to respond. Its response is linked below.

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Company response
30 April 2018

Response by Unilever Group

Author: Unilever Group

UNILEVER GROUP REPLY TO LETTER DATED 19/04/2018 FROM REDRESS, CORE, ACCA AND KITUO CHA KERIA ALLEGING HUMAN RIGHTS POLICY INCONSISTENCY

The Unilever Group Human Rights Policy Statement (available online here) describes our commitment to respect universal principles, our due diligence processes and our governance. Defending our legitimate legal rights where we believe we are correct to do so in no way diminishes these commitments. However, as this matter is before the courts, and for the security reasons set out below, we can’t respond in detail. Nevertheless, we wish to make several important observations:
• The letter contains material factual inaccuracies and allegations which are unsupported by the evidence.
• Current court proceedings are concerned principally at this stage with whether the English Courts have jurisdiction to hear the claims and there has been no ruling on the merits of the claim.
• After the first hearing in 2016, the High Court Judge ruled that the case should not be heard in the English Courts as the invasion of Unilever Tea Kenya was not foreseeable and that it was not fair, just or reasonable to impose a duty on Unilever PLC to anticipate and protect against a general breakdown of law and order or to ensure that the claimants were protected from the criminal acts of the invaders.
• The Claimants appeal against this decision was heard by the Court of Appeal in the week of 23rd April 2018 but the outcome will not be known for some time.
The long involvement in this matter of the NGOs who sent this letter means they should be aware that the Claimants who brought the case against Unilever submitted to the Court that any publicity could put them at risk and their identities are also protected by anonymity. Accordingly, Unilever has taken care to avoid any publicity and believes that drawing attention to the case via this letter, social media, and any ensuing press interest, is regrettable. We hope that all involved will respect the Claimants security concerns in the future.
Further information on Unilever’s approach to Human Rights is set out in a report available online here. This is a 2017 follow up to the ground breaking 2015 Unilever Human Rights report, which was the first ever such report published by a business to comprehensively use the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework. 

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Article
20 April 2018

Unilever PLC should redress harm to survivors of post-election attack in Kenya

Author: REDRESS

Unilever PLC should reconsider the way it is dealing with a case brought by hundreds of survivors of attacks at one of its tea plantations in Kenya during the post-election violence in 2007, four human rights groups said in a letter sent to Unilever PLC’s CEO, Paul Polman.  The letter was sent on 19 April 2018 ahead of a hearing in this case that will take place on 24-26 April before the Court of Appeal in London.  It was sent by REDRESS, the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA), CORE and Kituo Cha Sheria...The claim arises out of allegations that Unilever failed to protect their tea workers from the ethnic violence in 2007 at Unilever Tea Kenya Ltd., one of its subsidiaries...The claim was brought by 218 claimants, including the families of 11 victims who were brutally killed, and a large number of people who suffered serious violent attacks, including gang rape.  The claim alleges that Unilever had placed their workers in a position of serious risk because many of the workers were from tribes which were not local to the area, so were specific targets of violence from the majority tribe...at times of social unrest...The claimants allege that the relevant crisis management expertise resided in Unilever PLC and that these experts were responsible for ensuring that proper procedures were in place in Unilever Tea Kenya and that people were trained...

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Article
19 April 2018

Letter to Mr. Paul Polman concerning corporate accountability issues in relation to a case involving Unilever Tea Plantation in Kenya

Author: REDRESS, African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA), CORE, Kituo Cha Sheria

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