Bidco uses a caste system of management to rule over Kenyan workers, according to company employees. Dozens of Indian nationals loyal to the Shah family, Bidco’s owners, are illegally employed as managers and live in Kenya on tourist visas, they say.
In interviews with over a dozen Bidco employees, a picture of CEO Vimal Shah’s management practices emerges for the first time.
The heart of the illegal employment scheme is ominously called “Section 9”. This is where the illegal Indian workers live in a compound near Bidco’s Thika production facility, outside Nairobi. The managers, who earn a better wage in Kenya than at home in India, are told to keep to themselves and rarely leave the compound for fear of being caught working on tourist visas.
“Indians are in charge of all departments,” one worker said. “These include the HR, engineering and refinery departments.”
The practice dates back many years, and the Indians are known to bring workplace changes that are disastrous for Kenyans.
“In 2007,” one worker recalled, “the conveyor belts which carry packaged cooking oils were manned by 11 individuals. Then some Indians were brought to supervise the packing process and they have since reduced the number of workers per conveyor belt from 11 to 6. Now we have to work more to meet the same targets. The Indians are oppressing us and being paid a lot of money.”
Wages for the Indian employees are many times those of Kenyans, and the Indians block career advancement for Kenyans, the workers say.
Vimal Shah has a record out-of-date views on human equality, which he let slip in a recent fluff interview on Kenya’s KTN TV. Asked about how he got his start in business, he recalled that on his honeymoon he and his wife travelled to Malaysia to study a production facility. Asked what his wife did on the trip, he responded dismissively: “She was my assistant, taking short-hand notes.”