Bidco Africa has said the protesters that picketed outside Standard Chartered and Barclays Banks in London on Tuesday are con artists trying to blackmail the company.
The company says it has been fighting an anonymous and faceless group of online con artists masquerading as activists for over a year.
According to BIDCO, the group has been harassing the company and its partners on social media and via email. It has also been staging fake protests in various locations, and says the London Protests lack credibility.
“These guys are just bodies for hire. If you watch the video the incredible thing is they cannot even get the company name right. They are protesting against ‘Bisco’ and ‘Vamil Shah’, that tells you all you need to know about these people,” CEO Vimal Shah explains.
“At one point they asked for US$500,000 to stop the harassment and we said ‘no’ and so they have kept coming,” he adds.
“There is no activism here. We know who is behind it and what they hope the pressure will lead to but we will not buckle. We will not give in to extortion.
“We also know they have been approaching PR agencies in Nairobi trying to recruit them to run a smear campaign against. We have this information,” Vimal Shah says.
KEPSA, the apex private sector body in Kenya received emails from the group but when they invited them to present evidence-no one showed up, he said.
“We asked them to come forward and prove their claims but have heard nothing from them since,” the CEO Carole Kariuki says.
Bidco Africa insists the claims made by so called activists are outright lies and distortion of facts. The company also says the claims of deforestation are manifestly untrue.
“No forests were taken in Uganda; there have been four independent Environmental Impact Assessments done and they all give the project a clean bill of health. On the question of land, out of 9000 hectares acquired for the project, there is only one dispute with one farmer who was a squatter on someone’s land and the case is in court,” Kodey Rao, the Bidco Uganda Managing Director says. The Uganda unit has different ownership and management from its Kenyan counterpart.
“1750 farmers earned 1.5 Billion Ugandan Shillings last month, I wish someone could talk about that and how their lives have changed, the houses they have built, the cars they have bought and how they are taking their children to private universities,” he adds.
“Or the 44 Million USD that has gone into infrastructure on the island, the jobs, the tourism and the total economic transformation of the district. It used to be one of the poorest in the country, position 71 out of 76 and that is now one of the top ten in the country.”
The company says its labour record is being misrepresented.
“The pictures you see on social media are a big joke. There are 1800 employees at Bidco HQ – If they go on the streets to protest, everyone will know. It won’t be 10 or 20 guys.” Zipporah Mburu the executive in charge of Employee Welfare says.
“It’s annoying to see people who have never even set foot in Bidco purporting to represent our interests,” Linus Muendo a union representative at the company says.
“They know nothing about the company and how we live.”
Vimal Shah says the allegations of tax evasion are the most saddening.
“We are a proudly Kenyan company. We gladly pay on average about 70M USD a year in taxes and just because we have one dispute over the computation of one tax bill we are bad guys. The case is in court, why not let the courts decide?”
In the meantime the CEO says there are plenty of other things to talk about.
“Talk about the 4,500 entrepreneurs who form our supply chain or the 12,000 plus farmers who have a guaranteed market for their farm produce. Or our investments in new industries and technologies.
That’s what Bidco is really about.”
Bidco Africa Ltd is Kenya and East Africa’s leading manufacturer of edible oils, fats and hygiene care products. Established in 1985, the company has manufacturing units in Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar and a footprint in 16 African countries.
Bidco is home to some of Kenya’s most famous and loved brands such as Kimbo, Elianto, Golden Fry, Chipsy, Biddy’s, Gaea, Powerboy and Gental.
PROTESTERS HIT BACK
The Bidco Truth Coalition, www.No2Bidco.org, an alliance of East African activists exposing bad business ethics of Bidco Africa, strongly condemns Bidco’s claim that the coalition’s actions amount to extortion.
No2Bidco.org has never demanded anything from Bidco other than good governance.
Once again, Bidco and its CEO, Vimal Shah, are hiding behind the veneer of a carefully crafted image that deceives the public and the company’s partners about Bidco’s cruel labour practices, mass deforestation and large-scale tax evasion.
The press release issued by Shah (above), following a successful protest by No2Bidco.org in London, shows that this veneer is cracking, as No2Bidco.org reveals the truth about the Shah family.
In his accusations, Shah claims that the demonstrators are “bodies for hire” because they could not pronounce his and the company’s names correctly. Not only is this attack arrogant and insensitive toward peoples with different dialects, languages and accents, it reveals publicly Shah’s reportedly racist tendencies, which permeate Bidco, according to present and former workers.
Remarkably, in his statement Shah does not deny that his company deforested 18,000 acres of pristine land in Kalangala District, on Bugala Island, Uganda. Further confirmation of this travesty is provided by photos posted by Bidco in social media, showing oil palms as far as the eye can see. This is where some of the most lush and beautiful rainforest in the world once stood, before being mowed down so the Shahs could line their pockets with more ill-gotten gains.
No2Bidco.org is not anonymous and faceless. Countless courageous members have spoken out publicly about their treatment by Bidco. Dozens of independent media and NGOs have reported on them – from The Guardian to Agence France Presse and USAID to Friends of the Earth. From the shores of Bugala Island to the dusty slums of Thika in Kenya, where Bidco workers live, members of our coalition have names and faces, and they live in fear of Shah’s henchmen coming to silence them.
The situation in Kalangala District is far from the ideal Bidco presents in its statement. While Bidco takes credit for building wide roads to accommodate the company’s fume-spewing trucks, a report called “Pro-Poor Land Records, Palm Oil and Prosperity: Any Proof from Bugala Island, Uganda?”, presented at the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty on 23 March 2015, found that “a hospital or dedicated public medical facility is still lacking on the island, alcoholism and HIV/AIDS have been on the rise and require intervention, and environmental risks concerning the chemical fertilizer required for the palms are expected to reduce the fish stock in the medium term.”
Meantime, Kalangala’s outgrower farmers have protested Bidco’s low payments for their crops. In March, the farmers resorted to processing their own oil when Bidco’s prices failed to meet international standards stipulated in their contracts. More than a dozen farming families are suing Bidco in Uganda after the company grabbed their land.
The only positive words Kalangala’s farmers have for Bidco can be found in a 2015 propaganda video produced by Bidco management. The farmers later said they spoke under duress.
With the facts clearly on the side of No2Bidco.org, Shah has resorted to calling in his Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) puppet Carole Kariuki to defend him. No2Bidco.org sent Kariuki several court decisions that prove Bidco’s labour violations, as well as more than 500 pages of documents which implicate Bidco in a Sh5.7 billion ($57 million) tax evasion, but she lamely states that No2Bidco.org “has refused to come forward to prove their claims.” What many in Kenya know is now proven publicly by Kariuki herself: she and Shah have turned the organisation into a lobby for Bidco’s interests, and KEPSA is party to Bidco’s crimes.
The website www.No2Bidco.org is a reference tool for all information that the Shah family has tried to hide for years. The articles and documents are from independent sources that have much more credibility than Bidco’s empty pronouncements. We urge the public and Bidco’s partners to study the information and come to their own conclusion about Bidco Africa. Some of the greatest changes in companies and society have come through activism, and this inspires us.