In the cover article of The Nation’s 8-15 February issue, Dr. Tara Van Ho, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, asserts that businesses operating in Kenya should have predicted that the 2007 national election would result in violence and taken appropriate measures to protect ethnic minority workers.
In ‘Blood on the Tea Leaves,’ author Maria Hengeveld details the story of ‘Anne,’ a worker at a tea plantation in Kenya. The plantation is owned by a subsidiary of London-based Unilever, a multinational purveyor of household goods. Anne, her husband, and her daughters were raped in their home on the plantation. Her husband was one of 11 plantation residents killed. Those who were tortured and killed were members of minority ethnic groups that were believed to have opposed the politician favoured by the population in the area surrounding the plantation. Anne and her co-complainants have argued that Unilever had a responsibility to ensure their safety in light of the severity of the harm posed to them from election-related violence. Dr. Van Ho concurs.
After a tort case against Unilever was dismissed by the English Court of Appeal, the Kenyan claimants wrote to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. The Working Group has a mandate to receive complaints that either a state or business (and sometimes both) has failed to meet the standards set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, currently the most authoritative statement on the responsibilities of businesses and states when the former harms human rights. The Working Group can intervene to encourage businesses to abide by their responsibilities, and to correct misinterpretations or misapplications of the Guiding Principles.
In The Nation article, Dr. Van Ho indicates that Unilever’s efforts to prevent Anne and others from accessing an adequate remedy run afoul of what the Guiding Principles expect of businesses.
Dr. Van Ho, her Essex Business and Human Rights Project (EBHR) co-director Dr. Anil Yilmaz Vastardis and Lisa Kadel (then an Essex LLM student and EBHR frontrunner), have previously criticized the English Court of Appeal decision.
Dr. Van Ho also has an upcoming article in the Human Rights Quarterly that examines when a business incurs a responsibility to provide remedies.