Court rules that an English-registered parent company owed no duty of care to those affected by the actions or omissions of its Kenyan subsidiary


Re: AAA v Unilever Plc [2018] EWCA Civ 1532

This was an appeal against a decision that the claimants had no arguable claim against the respondents, an English-domiciled holding company (Unilever) and its Kenyan subsidiary (UTKL), which operated a tea plantation, for breach of duty of care.

The 218 appellants had been employees at, or lived on, the Kenyan plantation. In 2007, following the presidential election, rioters invaded the plantation, committing murders, rapes and violent assaults, and damaging property. There was also a breakdown in policing in the country. The appellants claimed that the respondents should have foreseen the risk of such violence and that they had breached their duty of care to protect the appellants by failing to have in place adequate crisis management plans. Applying Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman [1990] 2 A.C. 605, the judge dismissed the claims because no duty of care was owed by either respondent as the damage suffered was not foreseeable. However, she stated that there was a sufficient connection between the activities of, and omissions to act by, Unilever, as the ultimate holding company of UTKL, and the damage suffered by the appellants to satisfy the proximity test, according to the guidance in Chandler v Cape Plc [2012] EWCA Civ 525, [2012] 1 W.L.R. 3111.

The Court dismissed the appeal on the basis that the subsidiary was responsible for its own decision-making and had not sought advice from the parent company. Accordingly, there was insufficient proximity between the parent and 218 claimants.

Richard Hermer QC was involved in this case.