Over six thousand workers are striking in Kenya against Del Monte Fruit Processing over “alleged inhuman working conditions, irregular dismissal of their union representatives, poor pay and unlawful labour employment policies,” as stated by KBC. KTN News reported on this ongoing strike on January 8th, 2022 in a short clip featuring interviews with the strikers. The Del Monte Kenya Limited company is reported as producing $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 brought in $3.93 billion (USD) in revenue in 2014.
This isn’t the first strike in the organization’s history in Kenya. Back in 2002, the Kenya Human Rights Commission published a report detailing the events that led to and arose from a campaign in the 90s – the death of an employee at the Del Monte plant due to a denial of first aid services. The employee had been working 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 referred initially to the clinic on Del Monte grounds who gave him medication. He took it, but was feeling very ill the following day and stayed home. The day after that, April 4, 1999, he was much worse off and asked to be seen at the clinic again. This time, the staff told him that due to company policies he could not be seen. Instead, they told him to go to a hospital. The man died shortly after.
A post-mortem investigation of the body found that he had died of malaria, and the medication he was given was improper for treatment of malaria. Interestingly, the family had to take the body to a different location because the original one refused to do the post-mortem. The nurse who gave the prescription claimed it was Del Monte’s policy that he was acting under when prescribing the medication. Prior to that, an employee working at Del Monte in 1980 suffered severe burns from concentrated sulphuric acid which resulted in “prolonged pain and suffering,” according to the aforementioned report.
The report also includes multiple instances of young people being mauled by dogs – something that has continued well into the 2010s and 2020s. In April 2019, guards working for Del Monte found a man trespassing. As stated by The Saturday Standard, they beat him until he died of his injuries. In November 2020, a Nation article described an attack on two men by Del Monte guards. The guards claim they were thieves coming to trespass, 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 were in big trouble.” Mburu fled the scene only to be chased down by dogs. He was then beaten by the guards after already being attacked by the dogs alongside the man with him, Geoffrey Ndung’u. The two men were then brought to a local police station which refused to receive Mburu due to his severe injuries. They instructed the guards to bring him to a hospital; instead, they dumped him in a bush 10 km from his home.
Del Monte has a demonstrated history of disregard for the well-being of workers and non-workers alike. They have a proven record 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’s illegal. Del Monte officials claim that the workers didn’t provide the proper notice and that the allegations they have brought forward are “unfounded and meant to sabotage its operations.”
The workers have expressed concerns over the outsourcing of jobs which Del Monte has responded to with assurances that their jobs are secure. Those on strike point to irregular dismissal of union representatives and a trend of workers who have worked 20+ years being kept as “casual” and not “permanent” employees as reasons to distrust the company’s claims. Those kept as “casual” are at risk of retiring with no benefits, regardless of their decades long dedication to Del Monte. As mentioned by KBC, when compared to other international organizations, the staff at Del Monte has been paid “dismally, turning them into beggars.”
The Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) has recently joined them in their demands. Del Monte has a history of violence and inhumane treatment, which makes its claims that the allegations are unfounded hard to believe. To err on the side of caution, an independent investigation should be conducted into the inhuman conditions, irregular dismissals, and unlawful labor employment policies. If the company is not doing anything wrong, then it should have nothing to hide from an investigation.
Some ways to help striking workers is to push local authorities for an independent investigation into Del Monte, boycott Del Monte products for the duration of the strike, and support mutual aid funds as they arise for the striking workers. It is important to remember, every product we consume has a cost. The poor treatment of agricultural workers in countries other than our own is something that can be easily overlooked. However, those are real people with families and loved ones to care for. They deserve safety, proper pay, and respect just as much as anyone else.
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