More than six thousand workers are on strike in Kenya against Del Monte Fruit Processing over “allegedly inhumane working conditions, improper dismissal of their union representatives, poor wages and illegal employment policies”, as KBC said. . KTN News reported on this ongoing strike on January 8, 2022 in a short clip featuring interviews with the strikers. Del Monte Kenya Limited is reported to produce $2.32 million in sales (USD) by Dun & Bradstreet. It is a subsidiary of Fresh Del Monte Produce, which is separate from Del Monte Foods. The parent company had revenue of $3.93 billion (USD) in 2014.
This is not the first strike in the organization’s history in Kenya. In 2002, the Kenya Human Rights Commission released a report detailing the events that led to and resulted from a campaign in the 1990s – the death of a Del Monte factory worker due to denial of first aid services. The employee had worked for Del Monte since October 1990 and lived in company housing. His name was Peter Mutsio Komolo. He reported to work and felt ill in early April 1999. Komolo was first referred to the Del Monte field clinic who gave him medication. He took it, but felt terrible the next day and stayed home. The next day, April 4, 1999, his condition was much worse and he asked to be seen at the clinic. This time the staff told him that due to company policies he could not be seen. Instead, they told her to go to the hospital. The man died shortly thereafter.
A post-mortem investigation into the body revealed that he had died of malaria and that the drugs given to him were inappropriate for the treatment of malaria. Interestingly, the family had to take the body to another location because the original refused to do the autopsy. The nurse who gave the prescription claimed it was Del Monte’s policy that he was acting in prescribing the drug. Prior to that, an employee working at Del Monte in 1980 suffered severe burns from concentrated sulfuric acid, which resulted in “prolonged pain and suffering,” according to the aforementioned report.
The report also includes several cases of youths mutilated by dogs – something that continued well into the 2010s and 2020s. In April 2019 guards working for Del Monte found a man breaking in. As reported by The Saturday Standard, they beat him until he died from his injuries. In November 2020, a Nation article described an attack on two men by Del Monte guards. The guards claim they were thieves who broke into their home, but the two men themselves claim they were on their own farm. Stephen Mburu, one of the men who was attacked, told Nation that “the guards ordered us to lie down. I knew we had big problems. Mburu fled the scene to be chased by dogs. He was then beaten by the guards after he had already been attacked by the dogs alongside the man who accompanied him, Geoffrey Ndung’u. The two men were then taken to a local police station which refused to receive Mburu due to his serious injuries. They ordered the guards to take him to the hospital; instead, they threw him into a bush 10 km from his home.
Del Monte has a demonstrated history of disregard for the welfare of workers and non-workers alike. They have a proven history of violence as well as a clear lack of care for their employees. The company’s response to the current strike, according to Soko Directory, is that it is illegal. Del Monte officials say the workers failed to provide proper notice and that the allegations they made are “baseless and intended to sabotage its operations.”
Workers expressed concerns about the outsourcing of jobs, to which Del Monte responded by guaranteeing that their jobs were safe. The strikers cite the irregular dismissal of union representatives and the tendency of workers who have worked for more than 20 years to be retained as “casual” and not “permanent” employees as reasons to be wary of the company’s demands. Those kept as “casuals” risk retiring without benefits, regardless of their decades-long dedication to Del Monte. As mentioned by KBC, compared to other international organisations, Del Monte staff were paid “woefully, turning them into beggars”.
The Kenya Plantation and Agriculture Workers Union (KPAWU) recently joined them in their demands. Del Monte has a history of violence and inhumane treatment, making his claims that the allegations are unfounded hard to believe. To err on the side of caution, an independent investigation should be conducted into the inhumane conditions, improper dismissals and illegal employment policies. If the company is doing nothing wrong, it shouldn’t be hiding anything from an investigation.
Some ways to help strikers include pushing local authorities to independently investigate Del Monte, boycotting Del Monte products for the duration of the strike, and supporting relief funds as they arise. show up for the strikers. It is important to remember that every product we consume has a cost. The mistreatment of agricultural workers in countries other than our own is something that can easily go unnoticed. However, they are real people with families and loved ones to support. They deserve security, a decent salary and respect as much as anyone else.