Kenya to investigate ‘sex for work’ exposed in BBC tea documentary

Kenya’s parliament has ordered an inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse on Unilever and James Finlay tea farms tea plantations revealed in a BBC report.

Lawmaker Beatrice Kemei said she watched the report with “utter shock”.

The BBC found more than 70 women had been abused by their managers at plantations operated, for years, by two British companies, Unilever and James Finlay.

The companies say they are shocked by the allegations. Four managers have been suspended.

The Fairtrade Foundation described the allegations as “appalling”, and said the investigation – by BBC Africa Eye and BBC Panaroma – were “nothing less than a #MeToo moment for tea”.

Ms Kemei, who serves as woman representative for a tea-growing area in Kericho county, said the report highlighted the “entrenched” sexual harassment at “tea multinationals operating in our country”.

MP Beatrice Elachi said it was unfortunate that such incidents were still taking place.

“Today is a very difficult day for me as a woman, leader and citizen of Kenya. Today I’ve been reminded that slavery still exists in this nation; I cannot explain how a man has violated women in tea plantations for 30 years and nothing has been done,” she was quoted by local media as saying.

Deputy Speaker Gladys Shollei ordered a committee of MPs to complete an investigation into the allegations within two weeks.

In the BBC investigation, one woman said she had been infected with HIV by her supervisor, after being pressured into having sex with him.

Another woman said a divisional manager stopped her job until she agreed to have sex with him.

“It is just torture; he wants to sleep with you, then you get a job,” she said.

A BBC undercover reporter, who posed as a jobseeker, was invited to a job interview by a recruiter for James Finlay & Co.

It turned out to be in a hotel room, where she was pinned against a window and asked to undress by the recruiter, who has worked on Finlay’s plantations for more than 30 years, and had already been flagged as a “predator” by a number of women who spoke to the BBC.

“I’ll give you some money, then I’ll give you a job. I have helped you, help me,” he said.

“We’ll lie down, finish and go. Then you come and work.”

Unilever faced similar allegations more than 10 years ago and launched a “zero tolerance” approach to sexual harassment as well as a reporting system and other measures, but the BBC found evidence that allegations of sexual harassment were not being acted on.

The BBC’s Tom Odula spoke to women who worked on tea farms run by both companies. A number told him that because work is so scarce, they are left with no choice but to give in to the sexual demands of their bosses or face having no income.

British supermarket chain Tesco said it takes the allegations “extremely seriously” and is in “constant dialogue” with Finlay’s to ensure “robust measures” are taken.

In response to the BBC investigation, Sainsbury’s, another supermarket chain, said: “These horrific allegations have no place in our supply chain.”

On Monday, it issued a revised, updated statement saying it will “take robust action to safeguard workers” in its “tea supply chain.”

Starbucks also issued a statement on Monday, saying it was “deeply concerned” and has taken “immediate action” to suspend purchasing from James Finlay & Co in Kenya.

James Finlay & Co said it had suspended the manager, and had reported him to the police. It was investigating whether its Kenyan operation has “an endemic issue with sexual violence”, the company added.

Unilever said it was “deeply shocked and saddened” by the allegations. The company sold its operation in Kenya while the BBC was secretly filming.

The new owner, Lipton Teas and Infusions, said it had suspended two managers, and had ordered a “full and independent investigation”.

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