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17 Jul 2018

Marilyn Croser, CORE (UK)

Unilever: time for real leadership on human rights

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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...

Part of the following timelines

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

Unilever lawsuit (re ethnic violence in Kenya)