Protesters ask banks to stop doing business with Kenya’s Bidco over alleged violations

East African protesters, Tuesday, hit the streets of London to demonstrate against banks that do business with Bidco Africa, a multinational consumer goods company headquartered in Kenya. The protesters highlighted the connection between global financial institutions, The Prince of Wales and widespread deforestation in Africa.

Barclays and Standard Chartered saw their London headquarters picketed due to their funding of Nairobi-based Bidco, a company that cuts down thousands of acres of pristine rainforest in Uganda, and engages in human rights and tax violations in Kenya and Tanzania, a statement by the Bidco Truth Coalition, an activist alliance.

BTC revealed that the Banking Environment Initiative (BEI), based at Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership under the patronage of The Prince of Wales, is failing in its mission to lead the banking industry in collectively directing capital towards environmentally and socially sustainable economic development.

The BEI’s nine member banks are Barclays, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Lloyds, Northern Trust, RBS, Santander and Westpac.

By signing up to BEI’s ‘Soft Commodities’ Compact, the nine banks have committed to only direct capital towards sustainable business models and achieve zero net deforestation among their client companies. Under BEI guidelines, member banks must drop clients that don’t measure up to socially and environmentally responsible policies.

The protesters alleged that Bidco Africa has engaged in multiple human rights, labour, tax and environmental violations, and has publicly stated that it does business with Barclays, Standard Chartered, Citibank, Equity Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank.

According to BTC, Bidco owns an oil palm plantation that has deforested 18,000 acres of rainforest in Uganda. It also alleged that Bidco had also grabbed land from over 100 smallholder farmers. But BEI has remained silent, and Barclays, Standard Chartered and other banks continue to do business with Bidco Africa.

The Bidco Truth Coalition, therefore, called on BEI, its patron, The Prince of Wales, and BEI’s nine member banks to publically state that they will no longer do business with Bidco and other companies that destroy the environment.

Reacting to the allegations, Bidco Africa said the protesters that picketed outside Standard Chartered and Barclays Banks in London on Tuesday are con artists trying to blackmail the company.

“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 claims.

“At one point they asked for 500,000 USD 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.”

A statement from the company said 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.

Kodey Rao the Bidco Uganda Managing Director also commented: “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.”

“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 rep at the company says.

“They know nothing about the company and how we live.”

Vimal Shah says the allegations of tax evasion 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.”