Bidco Africa supported the highly controversial purchase of land in Kampala, Uganda, a UN probe has found.
The finding draws the Kenyan-owned edible oils manufacturer to the centre of eviction claims by peasant farmers who are fighting the firm in court over compulsory acquisition of their land currently under palm oil.
Investigators from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) submitted that Bidco should not have qualified for the Business Call to Action (BCtA) – a voluntary UNDP programme that seeks to involve companies in alleviating poverty through inclusive business models.
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“Information gathered during the investigation indicated while Bidco Uganda was not directly involved in acquiring land for crops for its refinery, it knew of, relied on, and encouraged this purchase by the government,” the UNDP says in a draft report compiled after an investigation.
Contrary to the position held by the firm’s Chief Executive Officer Vimal Shah that his company was only invited to a joint venture to invest in the palm oil plantation, it has been reported that Bidco Uganda was actually engaged in decisions and discussions related to the purchase.
Bidco has been fighting accusations of involvement in the controversial land acquisition intended to make way for large-scale production of palm oil in Kalangala district.
“Bidco could be complicit in these violations,” says the report, even though the investigators were quick to add that they could not confirm if the firm was culpable of any violations of human rights.
Under BCtA, companies give a commitment to promote access to Social Development Goals through involvement of the smallest of producers such as buying raw materials from peasant farmers for their manufacturing needs.
The firm maintained yesterday it had complied with the laid-down guidelines, claiming it had not violated any human rights.
“It is a voluntary programme, which we sought to join and it is clear from the report that Bidco has not been indicted on any violations,” a spokesman for the company said.
Bidco Africa applied to be a member of BCtA in 2015, UNDP reported, committing to “integrate over 30,000 Kenyan smallholder farmers into agricultural value chains and ‘create over 60,000 direct and indirect jobs through opening its value chains for small-scale entrepreneurs.”
Investigators in the probe, however, said the scrutiny of Bidco’s application was weak in relation to the requirements on approving of such requests from other private sector entities.
Appraisers listed several relevant controversies in response. “...the summary of due diligence findings in the applicant summary reflects that staff identified several important risks – at least partially fulfilling the requirement to assess risks – but did not clearly follow up in a satisfactory way or characterise risks accurately.”
Among the immediate concerns that the appraising staff ignored were land-grabbing claims and the pending lawsuit filed by Ugandan farmers who claimed to have been evicted from their land for the Bidco Uganda project.
Bidco Africa, however, claims it is only a minority investor in the project, and as such, does not have control in decision-making.