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Story of Del Monte hasn’t been fully told, what are journalists waiting for?

Francis Mwana ya Nzambe Atwoli, NOM (DZA), CBS, EBS, MBS, met outgoing managing director of Del Monte Kenya Limited Stergios Gkaliamoutsas and acting MD Wayne Cook.

 “We discussed a number of issues surrounding workers’ rights and welfare and the growth prospects of the company so that workers can ultimately benefit,” the secretary general of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions posted on X on January 18.

“In our discussion, we highlighted the recent misleading campaign against the company. As a union we promised to promote the good name of Del Monte Limited, which has continuously provided direct and indirect employment to over 100,000 Kenyans.”

Sawa, mzae. Cotu offering to promote the good name of Del Monte is fine. But whatrecent misleading campaign against the company” was Kenya’s top unionist talking about? He didn’t clarify.

Just two days before Atwoli’s post, London’s the Guardian newspaper had broken a world exclusive. “Major human rights violations at Del Monte farm in Kenya, report finds,” the headline screamed.

“Major human rights violations are being committed at a vast Del Monte pineapple farm in Kenya where there have been numerous deaths and violence, according to the conclusions of an unpublished report,” the Guardian reported.

“The findings, seen by the Guardian, are highly critical of Del Monte Kenya and include claims that the company’s employees are working with a cartel of thieves, providing them with intelligence. The report says the farm has serious problems with organised pineapple theft, losing crops to gangs at a large scale.”

The dossier was compiled by social auditor Partner Africa and shared in December with British supermarkets supplied by Del Monte. Around Christmas, the bodies of four men were retrieved from a river in the farm. The previous month, a man’s body was found floating in a Del Monte dam.

The fruit giant said it was “cooperating with Kenyan authorities as they continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the four bodies retrieved from the Thika River,” according to the Guardian.

UK supermarkets asked Del Monte to investigate the deaths. Last year, Tesco and Waitrose announced they were withdrawing the farm’s products from their shelves to protest the human rights violations.

The Guardian cited a human rights impact assessment conducted by Del Monte itself last year. “The report describes an intense conflict between loosely organised groups of pineapple thieves and Del Monte security staff, causing casualties on both sides, including injuries and death. It concludes that the Kenyan farm is causing major human rights harms across multiple areas to its staff and those living in communities surrounding it,” the paper reported.

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

A British Retail Consortium spokesperson 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.”

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

A joint investigation by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published last June uncovered claims from residents of violence by guards at the plantation in the last four years.

Human rights organisations including Amnesty International, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the Kenya Human Rights Commission have expressed concerns about the situation at Del Monte.

But there is hardly any serious investigation of the wave of allegations swirling around the fruit farm in the Kenyan media.

On January 2, Business Daily reported that two advocacy groups and individuals alleging to be victims of brutality by guards at Del Monte had sued the company seeking compensation.

Citizen Digital reported on December 29 that an autopsy showed three of the four men who “mysteriously died” at Thika River near Del Monte around Christmas had drowned. The Star carried a similar report. No follow-up stories.

Maybe Atwoli Mwana ya Nzambe is right. All these damning reports could be amisleading campaign against the company.” Cotu, all Kenyan workers, everyone, should “promote the good name of Del Monte Limited.”

But the only way Kenyans and the world would ever know what exactly is going on at the Thika farm in the light of these extensively documented and disturbing allegations is through thorough investigative journalism. What is our Fourth Estate waiting for?

See you next week!

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