DRC: Heineken Breached Human Rights Standards
Heineken and former workers in Democratic Republic of Congo reach agreement on labour rights dispute through OECD complaint mechanism
In October 2015, 168 workers previously employed by Heineken’s Congolese subsidiary, Bralima, filed a complaint with Dutch National Contact Point (NCP) alleging unlawful dismissals from 1999 – 2003. The complainants alleged that Bralima collaborated with the rebel movement RCD-GOMA, instead of obtaining authorization from the DRC Ministry of Labour to proceed with massive dismissals for economic reasons. The complaint also alleged Heineken had breached human rights standards outlined in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and sought remedy in the form of monetary compensation.
A confidential agreement was reached following the mediation process facilitated by the Dutch NCP.
All parties indicate that they are satisfied with the confidential agreement, which includes recommendations to Heineken and monetary compensation for workers. While the agreement is confidential, one Dutch news source reported that the compensation for former workers totals €1.1 million.
Colluding with rebel forces, exploiting workers
According to the complaint, Bralima took advantage of a period of political turmoil in the DRC to quickly dismiss a large number of employees without authorisation from the competent labour authority, but from the rebel movement RCD-Goma instead. The employees dismissed en masse were replaced by temporary workers. As Bralima’s parent company, the workers claimed that Heineken had or should have had knowledge of the situation and should have used its influence to prevent the abuse of the workers’ rights. In failing to do so, the workers held Heineken responsible and demanded that Heineken compensate them for the harm done.
As part of the agreement, Heineken has committed to improving its policy and practices on doing business in volatile and conflict-affected countries. An evaluation of the implementation of the agreement will be conducted in mid-2018.
Already in November 2013, IOGT International covered Heineken’s unethical business practices in the DRC. Maik Dünnbier wrote in a blog post back then:
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, many say a failed state and some say a non-existent state – anyone, no matter the age, can get a beer anywhere, anytime. To be more precise, anyone can get a Primus. The saying of the locals is: ‘You can bomb a hospital, but not Bralima.'”
For further reading:
OECD Watch: “Former employees vs. Heineken”
OECD Final Statement on Former Emloyees of Bralima vs. Bralima and Heineken (PDF)
Somo News: “Historic agreement between Heineken and former Congolese workers seeking remedy in labour rights dispute”