Kericho senator seeks to sue multinationals selling off businesses

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi, May 3, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot is preparing a class action suit against multinationals selling off their businesses without the consent or concurrence of the locals and the County governments whose land they use on lease.

This is after the troubled tea multinational James Finlay announced a surprise exit from the Kenyan market after offloading an 85 per cent stake to a Sri Lankan firm Browns Investment PLC.

There is uncertainty over the locals' 15 per cent stake in the plantation.

The Senate Majority Leader said a trend has emerged where the multinationals overlook key stakeholders including the county leadership when undertaking crucial decisions that have far-reaching consequences.

"There is an emerging trend where multinationals sell off their businesses without consent or concurrence of the county government whose land they use on lease. That is illegal and unconstitutional," says Cheruiyot.

The Senator accused James Finlay of blatant disregard of the structures established which will further disenfranchise the people who have accommodated the multinationals for aeons.

"As a tenant, you cannot sell off a business without prior knowledge of the landlord," he said.

According to the statement released on Thursday last week, Finlay said the sale will be completed in the coming months and will include all parts of James Finlay Kenya Limited except the Saosa tea extraction facility.

On the fate of workers and contractors, Finlay assured that all operations will continue uninterrupted.

"While the sale process is concluded, operations for James Finlay Kenya will be business as usual, and a full plan is under development to ensure a smooth transition with no customer disruption. On completion of the sale, Browns intends to continue to run the business as it has been operated until now, as a leading global supplier of Kenyan tea, under a new name. There will be no change in the employment arrangements for current employees of James Finlay Kenya," read the statement in part.

The multinational that was in the eye of the storm over rape allegations exposed by BBC Eye Documentary was quick to add that the sale was not occasioned by the image crisis and reputation damage.

"The BBC documentary, which was broadcasted on 20th February 2023 had no impact on this. The testimonies from workers across Kenyan tea estates shared in the documentary were truly appalling and deeply upsetting - there is simply no place for harassment, abuse or misconduct of any kind anywhere at JFK or across Finlays. Over the last two months, we have been focused on taking immediate action to protect all at JFK. We also commissioned an independent investigation led by ethical working practices NGO Partner Africa, to assess where approaches to safeguarding JFK employees need to be improved," read the statement.

The report on rape and sexual harassment from independent investigations is expected in August with both Finlays and Browns expected to implement all the recommendations to protect all in the multinational.

"Throughout the sale process Finlays has at all times prioritized the interests of James Finlay Kenya as a business and its workers. As part of the sale agreement, Browns and Finlays have mutually agreed to acknowledge the long-standing support of the local community by selling 15 per cent of shares in James Finlay Kenya to a locally-owned co-operative. Finlays has identified a preferred third party which it is currently in discussions with," read the statement.

Last month Kericho Senator sought a statement on the brutal and forceful grabbing of large swathes of productive land by the British colonialists in the pre-colonial era rendering the natives destitute in their ancestral land.

In the petition, Cheruiyot claims British imperialists forcefully took away the Kipsigis' land in 1895 and further enacted oppressive laws that those who resisted forceful eviction from their land were violently deported and detained without trial.

He noted that the affected land includes Kericho, Kerenga, Tagabi, estates and the whole of the African Highlands.

"The imperialists took advantage of the warm hospitality offered by the Kipsigis People by taking over the land that includes Unilever Tea (Brooke Bond), James Finlay (African Highlands), George Williamson, (Changoi and Lelsa), Sotik Tea, Sotik Highlands, Kaisugu Tea, Mau Tea, Koru and Fotterman Farms ( Kap Norman's), Kabianga Tea and Tinga Farm among others," he said.