Avocados have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, once again, as an avocado farm in Kenya, which supplies a number of British supermarkets, is being sued over a string of alleged human rights abuses.
Guards working for Kakuzi PLC - a huge plantation in central Kenya and subsidiary of the large British-owned agricultural business Camellia PLC - have been accused of serious violence against 79 Kenyans over more than a decade, from 2009 to January this year.
Former employees of Kakuzi are among the claimants, whose allegations include killings, sexual assault, attacks and false imprisonment. A legal claim has been launched in the High Court in London against Camellia PLC (and other UK companies in the Camellia Group).
Avocados, which are hand-picked on the a 54 square-mile plantation in Kakuzi estate near in Makuyu, Kenya, usually make it onto UK supermarket shelves at the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Lidl, and until recently Marks & Spencer. An avocado costs as little as 75p by the time it reaches a supermarket checkout.
"You cannot compare avocado with human life,” the mother of a 28-year-old man, who was battered to death after allegedly stealing avocados, told The Times.
The farm employs almost 500 armed security guards on the ever-expanding avocado plantation, where a hectare of avocados is worth more than £27,000. They are said to have been part of a pattern of systemic violence and intimidation against villagers over several decades, which has been documented by human rights organisations.
Mary Kambo, of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, said: “Kakuzi workers and host communities have known nothing but terror in the last 50 years. As if pushing them out of their fertile ancestral land is not enough, Kakuzi is reported to rape, maim and kill," the Kahawa Tungu reports.
The Times reports that the lawsuit, brought by the UK law firm Leigh Day, argues that the Camellia Group was negligent because it managed Kakuzi closely, and executives that worked for both companies would have been aware of incidents of human rights abuses.
The company has a history of controversy. Last year farmers threatened to sue it for breach of contract when they weren't paid in full.
Since avocados became one of the must have breakfast-table superfoods, they have spawned a lucrative industry, which comes at a cost, as anyone who has seen The Avocado War on Netflix will know.