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UK appeals court dismisses lawsuit against Unilever over 2007 post-election attacks at tea plantation in Kenya; includes co's statement

On 4 July 2018, the UK Court of Appeal dismissed a case against Unilever brought by the survivors of 2007 post-election attacks at a tea plantation in Kenya.  The lawsuit alleged that UK-registered parent company and its Kenyan-registered subsidiary were each liable to Kenyan employees and their families for failure to adopt adequate standards to protect them from ethnic violence.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Unilever to respond to the CORE blog post commenting on the lawsuit: "Unilever: time for real leadership on human rights".   Unilever provided a statement. In response to the company statement, a Victim's Committee, consisting of both former and current workers on Kericho tea plantation, decided to publish an open letter to Unilever's CEO Paul Polman, challenging the claims made by the company in its statement. The CORE post, the company response and the Victims' Committee letter are linked below.

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Article
28 September 2018

Kenyan workers say they warned Unilever before attacks in post-2007 vote violence

Author: Maggie Fick, Reuters

A group of Kenyan tea plantation workers have written to the chief executive of Unilever saying they had warned the firm’s local managers they would be caught up in ethnic violence after a disputed election in 2007, before being hunted and attacked.  The survivors...want their case for compensation heard in Britain and are seeking permission to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court.  Unilever has said the scale and intensity of the violence that broke out after Kenya’s disputed vote and which killed an estimated 1,200 nationwide was not foreseeable.  A spokesman for the Anglo-Dutch company said he could not comment on the letter as court proceedings were pending...A group of current and former Kenyan employees told Unilever CEO Paul Polman in their letter that they raised their fears with local managers before violence broke out near the company’s tea plantation...Without commenting on the letter, the Unilever spokesman said: “Unilever wholeheartedly rejects any allegation that the violence was foreseeable or that the company should ever try to take over state responsibility by retaining the kind of armed military force necessary to intervene in such situations.”...

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Article
28 September 2018

Survivors of post-election violence on Kericho tea plantation in Kenya submit public letter to Unilever's CEO in response to co's statement about their case

Author: Victims' Committee

"Victims' letter to Paul Polman", 25 Sep 2018

Download the full document here

Item
28 September 2018

Unilever's response to Victim's letter

Author: Unilever

Download the full document here

Company response
23 July 2018

Response by Unilever Group

Author: Unilever

"Unilever Group reply to CORE post (“Unilever: Time for real leadership on human rights”) referring to Kenya tea workers", 23 July 2018

 

Download the full document here

Article
17 July 2018

Unilever: time for real leadership on human rights

Author: Marilyn Croser, CORE (UK)

Last week the UK Court of Appeal dismissed a case brought by 218 Kenyan tea plantation workers and residents, who claim that consumer goods giant Unilever failed to protect them from post-election violence in 2007...Of the 218 claimants, seven were killed, 56 were gang raped and the others were subjected to brutal attacks that have left them with lifelong physical and psychiatric injuries.  The claimants argue that the plantation attacks were foreseeable...

The Court of Appeal dismissed the case on the grounds that the claimants had provided insufficient evidence to show that Unilever PLC had advised its subsidiary Unilever Tea Kenya on crisis management plans...Unilever has so far refused to disclose its most relevant documents to the Court, choosing instead to hide behind its corporate structure to evade liability...[A]s the Court noted, the victims were unable to obtain justice through Kenyan courts for fear of reprisals.  This does not chime well with Unilever’s ambition to remain a corporate leader on human rights and runs contrary to the statement in its 2017 updated human rights report that ‘Effective Remedy’ is one of its five focus areas... 

In this case Unilever has shown its commitment to the UNGPs to be at best partial, and at worst illusory. The company’s approach to this case risks undermining the very Principles that it supports and promotes...The Kenyan victims in this case have been denied remedy...Unilever has an opportunity to show real leadership on human rights by listening to and helping its former employees and their family members who have suffered the most appalling human rights abuses...

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Article
9 July 2018

Court of Appeal upholds AAA v Unilever judgment, declining to allow parent company liability claim

Author: Ian Jones, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

The Court of Appeal has handed down its judgment in AAA & Others v Unilever PLC and Unilever Tea Kenya Limited [2018] EWCA Civ 1532, upholding the decision at first instance to strike out the claims against Unilever...The case deals with parent company liability for acts primarily associated with foreign-registered subsidiaries...The Unilever Claimants alleged that UK-registered parent company Unilever PLC (UPLC) and its Kenyan-registered subsidiary, Unilever Tea Kenya Limited (UTKL), were each liable to UTKL employees and their families for a failure to adopt adequate safeguards to protect them from the ethnic violence that erupted in Kenya following the 2007 presidential elections...

...The High Court decided...that the Claimants’ claims in negligence against UPLC did not meet the necessary threshold, since UPLC did not owe a duty of care to the Claimants in respect of the alleged failings...A unanimous Court of Appeal held...that UPLC did not owe the Claimants a duty of care in negligence and that the Claimants were therefore unable to demonstrate a properly arguable case...It held that the evidence relied upon by the Claimants failed to disclose a level of control by UPLC over UTKL’s operations that was sufficient to warrant the imposition of a duty of care...The judgment provides additional clarity regarding the difficulties to be faced by Claimants seeking to bring proceedings in the English Courts against a UK-registered company for activities occurring abroad and primarily relating to a foreign-registered subsidiary.  However, this judgment...leaves open the possibility that UK-registered companies may still be found liable in negligence in English proceedings for acts occurring overseas...

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Article
4 July 2018

AAA & Others v Unilever Plc & Anor - Appeal judgement

Author: England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

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