Kenya starts probe into sexual harassment claims at UK tea firms
By VINCENT OWINO
Kenyan legislators have formed a committee to look into the allegations of sexual abuse of female workers at tea plantations owned by two UK firms as alleged in a BBC exposé last Monday.
National Assembly Deputy speaker Gladys Shollei said the committee will investigate the allegations and report back within two weeks.
Several female legislators have as well condemned the actions of the perpetrators and called for quick action following the exposé.
“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,” said lawmaker Beatrice Elachi.
Beatrice Kemei, the woman representative for tea-growing Kericho County, said the investigative report has showed the “entrenched sexual harassment in the [multinational tea farms] operating in our country.”
“I am concerned by the allegations of appalling behaviour made in this documentary — sexual abuse and exploitation has no place in society,” the UK High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Mariott said
The BBC Eye documentary revealed widespread sexual abuse of women by senior managers in exchange for work opportunities at two tea estates owned by UK firms James Finlay & Company and Unilever — which has since sold its brands to CVC Capital Partners.
Some of the women interviewed in the report said they were impregnated and infected with HIV by the perpetrators, yet no action was taken on their reports despite the companies having a “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual abuse.
The two companies said they are investigating the allegations and have immediately suspended those implicated in the acts.
Supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s – which have been buying from these estates – have also condemned the actions.
Coffeehouse chain Starbucks issued a statement on Monday saying it had immediately suspended purchasing from James Finlay & Co in Kenya.
“I welcome the commitment by the companies to investigate, cooperate with the Kenyan authorities, and take action to protect staff in Kenya,” Ms Mariott said.
But despite the steps already taken by the implicated companies and their top customers, the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) has demanded that they pay damages for physical and emotional health to the affected individuals.
In a statement on Wednesday, the unionists also demanded that the government “moves with speed” to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in workplaces to prevent such abuse from recurring in workplaces.