September 28, 2018 / 6:13 PM / 2 months ago

Kenyan workers say they warned Unilever before attacks in post-2007 vote violence

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A group of Kenyan tea plantation workers have written to the chief executive of Unilever saying they had warned the firm’s local managers they would be caught up in ethnic violence after a disputed election in 2007, before being hunted and attacked.

The survivors, whose letter was seen by Reuters, want their case for compensation heard in Britain and are seeking permission to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court.

Unilever has said the scale and intensity of the violence that broke out after Kenya’s disputed vote and which killed an estimated 1,200 nationwide was not foreseeable.

A spokesman for the Anglo-Dutch company said he could not comment on the letter as court proceedings were pending.

A legal battle over the issue, one of several attempts to hold British multinationals liable for alleged actions of their subsidiaries abroad, has been winding through English courts since 2016.

Law firm Leigh Day said it was representing 218 workers, including the families of seven workers who were killed during the violence and 56 female workers who say they were raped.

A group of current and former Kenyan employees told Unilever CEO Paul Polman in their letter that they raised their fears with local managers before violence broke out near the company’s tea plantation.

“All they said was that we should go and hide in the tea bushes, and that is where many of us were hunted and attacked. No one came to rescue us,” the letter dated Sept. 25 said.

Without commenting on the letter, the Unilever spokesman said: “Unilever wholeheartedly rejects any allegation that the violence was foreseeable or that the company should ever try to take over state responsibility by retaining the kind of armed military force necessary to intervene in such situations.”

An English High Court judge in 2016 ruled in favour of Unilever, saying it could not have foreseen that widespread violence would break out in the area near its farm.

CORE, a British civil society coalition that advocates for corporate responsibility, said the parent company had “responsibility to ensure standards throughout the business.”

Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in London; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Edmund Blair

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