UK supermarket giant Tesco said Monday it had suspended the supply of avocados from a vast Kenyan plantation operation accused of systemic human rights abuses in a new lawsuit.
Britain’s biggest grocery retailer announced the move after law firm Leigh Day said Sunday it had initiated legal action against UK firm Camellia, whose subsidiary runs the site.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 79 Kenyans at London’s High Court, accuses the subsidiary Kakuzi of employing security guards alleged to have perpetrated horrific abuses since 2009.
They include killings, rape, attacks and false imprisonment.
Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, which first reported on the legal action, said Kakuzi supplies avocados to several UK supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “Any form of human rights abuse in our supply chain is unacceptable.
“We have been working closely with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), alongside other ETI members, to investigate this issue and ensure measures have been taken to protect workers.
“However, in light of additional allegations published, we have suspended all supply whilst we urgently investigate.”
Sainsbury’s told the Sunday Times: “We continue to work closely with other UK retailers and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) to urgently investigate and address these reports.”
Camellia, a global conglomerate which employs 78,000 people worldwide, said in a statement it bought a 50.7 percent stake in Kakuzi in the 1990s but that it did not have “operational or managerial control”.
“Kakuzi is investigating the allegations so that if there has been any wrongdoing, those responsible for it can be held to account and if appropriate, safeguarding processes can be improved,” it added.
Leigh Day said former Kakuzi employees at the 54-square-mile (140-square kilometres) plantation in central Kenya, which is also a major source of macadamia nuts, pineapples and timber, are among the 79 claimants.
The lawsuit is being brought with the support of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), it added.