Alice worked on a tea estate in Kenya owned by Unilever Tea Kenya Ltd, a subsidiary of Unilever plc – the giant British-Dutch multinational company.
In 2007, following the Kenyan General Election, a number of people (allegedly including employees of Unilever Tea Kenya Ltd) invaded the Kericho Tea Plantation and attacked hundreds of workers and their families. A large number were either killed or injured.
Unilever stands accused of placing the victims at particular risk since they came from minority ethnic groups yet were brought to live and work in the tea plantation which is surrounded by groups hostile to ‘foreigners’.
Survivors of the violence brought the case to England because they would be at risk of reprisals if they attempted to bring a similar case in Kenya.
At the High Court in London survivors argued that the company failed in its duty of care to its employees, specifically by failing to take adequate steps to protect them from foreseeable post-election violence.
“Whenever we found them [threatening leaflets] we would inform the managers of the threats and the managers assured us that nothing was going to happen.
“I expected that because I worked in an international company we would be secure and everything would be safe.”
‘Alice’, interviewed by BBC Radio Four’s File on Four
In 2017 the High Court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case and in 2018 the Court of Appeal agreed, arguing that Unilever plc could not be held accountable for the actions or inactions of its Kenyan subsidiary. In 2019 the UK Supreme Court refused permission for survivors to appeal the Court of Appeal’s ruling.
For more information on this case please visit the Business and Human Rights website
Arati Rani Das was making clothes for the Canadian multinational Loblaws when the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed and she lost her leg. Her mother was killed.
In 2013 more than 1,100 people were killed and more than 2,500 others seriously injured. Most of the victims were young women making clothes for the western market.
Workers, including Arati, made clothes for Pearl Global and New Wave who were both under contract to supply Loblaws with clothes for its Joe Fresh brand.
At the Canadian Supreme Court Arati and other survivors argued that Loblaws was responsible for the safety of workers in its supply chains. They alleged that Loblaws knew that workplaces in Bangladesh were dangerous but took no effective action.
In 2017 the Canadian Supreme Court decided that Loblaws owed no ‘duty of care’ to the survivors as Bangladesh’s laws applied, not Canada’s.
"We continue to believe that this was a case of national and international importance that raised critical legal issues about corporate liability and the law applicable to the transnational conduct of Canadian corporations. The dismissal of this application leaves important questions unanswered by our country's highest court.
"However, these questions will no doubt re-emerge in the coming years with our growing reliance on workers manufacturing our products in precarious conditions."
For more information on this case please see the Canadian Broadcasting Commission (CBC) website:
Renee Walker brought a case on behalf of former child slaves who worked on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire supplying Nestlé and Cargill – Swiss and American multinationals respectively.
In 2018 the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lawsuit on behalf of former child slaves in Côte d’Ivoire could proceed. The two multinationals stand accused of ‘aiding and abetting’ child slavery from their corporate offices in the United States.
“The work children engage in on the cocoa farms includes burning and clearing fields, cutting down trees to expand cocoa plantations, spraying pesticides, using sharp tools to break pods and transporting heavy loads of cocoa pods and water.”
For more information on this case please visit the International Rights Advocates website
These are just three cases that illustrate how difficult it is for survivors of human rights abuses to get justice when multinational companies are involved.