Women working in tea firms owned by Unilever and James Finlays suffer immense sexual harassment to stay on the job.
Many of the women who come from poor backgrounds are forced to give their bodies to supervisors, mid and senior managers in order to get and maintain jobs.
The jobs are backbreaking but with no other economic activity in the area, they are left at the mercy of the sex pests.
A BBC investigation, Sex for Work: The True Cost of Our Tea – BBC Africa Eye documentary, that took over one and half years to produce revealed that Unilever Division Director Jeremiah Koskei and farm supervisor Samuel Yebei repeatedly preyed on vulnerable women for sex.
The two have since been sacked, but the scourge continues.
In 2011, a Kenya Human Rights report raised alarm over sex for a job scandal at the same farm.
Unilever promised that its investigations had yielded corrective measures and that incidences of rape of workers by senior male staff in the plantations were a thing of the past.
Before BBC completed the investigations, Unilever sold its tea farms.
The tea farms are now under a company named Lipton Teas and Infusions.
Despite a zero tolerance stance; it appeared that Uniliver’s office against sexual harassment was powerless. Even the central govt’s Department of Gender was sleeping on the job as reports after reports of the rapes, sex for jobs and sexual harassment gathered dust.
In fact, BBC reveals that some staff that reported the Gender department got fired.
The perpetrators remained at work.
That is until BBC exposed the vice.
Mr Yebei is accused of having sex with female workers inside the plantation. Allegations he denies, but going by the footage BBC acquired over a period of time. It shows he is guilty.
During the BBC’s filming, Unilever sold its tea brands and fields to the venture capital company CVC, which operates as Lipton Teas and Infusions.
Lipton Teas and Infusions says it has “immediately suspended the two managers,” and ordered a “full and independent investigation.”
The documentary also explores the economic realities which make women on the plantations vulnerable to abuse. The introduction of mechanical harvesting machines in recent years has led to a dramatic reduction in workforces and has increased competition for jobs in the region. This has increased the pressure on women to have sex in exchange for employment.
At James Finlays tea, the sexual predators were John Chebochok, a senior farm manager and John Asava, a farm supervisor.
John Chebuchok is shown trying to have sex with a BBC undercover investigator who asked for a job.
Instead of taking her to his office for an interview, Mr Chebochok invites the lady to a hotel where he proceeds to take her to a room and tries to force himself on the lady.
On his part, John Asava is accused of multiple sexual harassments including a 2020 rape of a 14 year old girl.
Though evidence is now destroyed, this is the part that makes one’s blood boil with anger and we shall follow up to know how the National Police Service handles the mater.
Mr Asava even boasts that there was a gang rape incident at the James Finlay farm where a female farm worker was raped from 8am to 6pm.
The management knew about the incident, but the perpetrators continued to work.
“The company however had to cleat its name,” John Asava is heard saying.
Following the BBC’s investigation, James Finlay and Co says it has suspended and barred Chebochok and Asava from its tea farms and reported them to the police. The company also told the BBC that it is investigating whether its Kenyan operation has “an endemic issue with sexual violence.”
In addition to the sexual abuse allegations, the documentary refers to claims of workers suffering serious back injuries working on Finlay’s tea plantations. A £125 million pound class-action lawsuit, filed against James Finlay and Company by up to 2000 current and former employees, is currently making its way through the Scottish courts. Finlays is contesting the action and defends its health and safety record. Up to 2,000 current and former employees allege the company failed in its duty of care; many say they have developed painful spinal condition called Lumbar Myo-spasm.
Joy Temba, one of the lawyers representing the case said: “It is [exploitation]. Unfortunately, you’ll just be here because you still need the money, you still need the food.”
James Finlay and Co is the second largest tea company operating in Kenya’s Rift Valley and supplies tea to Starbucks, as well as Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets.
Responding to the BBC’s findings, Sainsbury’s said: “These horrific allegations have no place in our supply chain.”
Tesco stated that it is in “constant dialogue” with the company to ensure “robust measures” are taken.
Starbucks did not provide a statement.
Many of the women that were forced into sexual relations for a job are infected with HIV/AIDS.
They have no other means of livelihood and have to come back to work to fend for their families.
The introduction of mechanised tea picking has made life worse since men are no longer employed.
The backbreaking work is left to women who are exploited amidst the sea of biting poverty.
Is there any way to heal other than to have a functional human rights office at the farms?
Can the govt make the world’s biggest brands, including PG Tips, Lipton and UK supermarket Sainsbury’s Red label pay for the atrocities?
Who will force /oversee Finlays and Lipton to improve conditions at the farms?
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