Explosive revelations have emerged regarding the sexual exploitation of workers on tea farms in Kenya that supply some of the UK’s most beloved supermarket brands, including PG Tips, Lipton, and Sainsbury’s Red Label.
An undercover reporter investigating the matter uncovered the sordid reality in which more than 70 women on Kenyan tea farms had been subjected to sexual abuse by their supervisors.
The undercover reporter, who was posing as a worker, secretly filmed local bosses pressuring her for sex. Shockingly, the bosses were employed on plantations owned by Unilever, and James Finlay & Co. After the exposé, three managers have been suspended.
What’s even more alarming is that Unilever had previously faced similar allegations over 10 years ago, and had supposedly launched a “zero tolerance” approach to sexual harassment, along with reporting systems and other measures. However, a joint investigation by BBC Africa Eye, and Panorama, revealed that the allegations were not being acted upon.
The women who work on tea farms spoke out about their harrowing experiences, saying that they felt they had no choice but to give in to their bosses’ sexual demands because work is so scarce.
One woman interviewed said…
“I can’t lose my job because I have kids.”
Another woman alleged that a divisional manager stopped her job until she agreed to have sex with him while another was infected with HIV by a supervisor.
“It is just torture. He wants to sleep with you, then you get a job.”
An undercover reporter from the BBC named Katy (a pseudonym) went to work on tea plantations. She was interviewed by John Chebochok, a recruiter for James Finlay & Co. However, the interview location turned out to be a hotel room.
Chebochok, who had been identified as a “predator” by several women and worked on Finlay’s plantations for over three decades as both an estate manager and a contracting company owner, allegedly trapped Katy against a window and demanded that she touch and undress him.
“I’ll give you some money, then I’ll give you a job. I have helped you, help me. We’ll lie down, finish and go. Then you come and work.”
Katy resisted his advances before a member of the production team made a phone call to give her an excuse to leave.
“I was so scared and so shocked. It must be really difficult for the women who work under Chebochok.”
After the BBC contacted James Finlay & Co, the company stated that Chebochok was immediately suspended and that it had reported him to the police. The company is now investigating whether there is a systemic problem with sexual violence in its Kenyan operation.
While working undercover on a farm, Katy also experienced sexual harassment at a location that was being run by Unilever at the time. She attended an induction day where the divisional manager, Jeremiah Koskei, spoke to recruits about Unilever’s zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment.
Later that evening, Koskei invited “Katy” to meet him in a hotel bar and attempted to pressure her into having sex with him, suggesting that they return to his compound together.
“If my whole life was pegged on this opportunity, I can only imagine how that encounter would have unfolded.”
Katy was assigned to the weeding team, which involves demanding labour for six days a week. Many women who work in this team request to be transferred to other duties due to the gruelling nature of the work. While working in the weeding team, Katy’s supervisor, Samuel Yebei, asked her to engage in sexual activity with him in exchange for lighter duties.
Katy reported the behaviour to one of Unilever’s sexual harassment officers. She was told…
“Stand by your principles. Don’t give your body in exchange for a job.”
Despite her attempts to follow up and find out what actions were being taken against her superiors, Katy did not receive any response. Unilever expressed being “deeply shocked and saddened” by the allegations and sold its operation in Kenya while the BBC was conducting its investigation. The new owner, Lipton Teas and Infusions, stated that it had immediately suspended the two managers and initiated a “full and independent investigation.” However, Jeremiah Koskei did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment, and Samuel Yebei denies the allegations made against him.
James Finlay and Co is a supplier of Kenyan tea to various supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s and Tesco, as well as Starbucks. In response to the investigation, Sainsbury’s stated that “these horrific allegations have no place in our supply chain.” Tesco expressed that it takes the allegations “extremely seriously” and is in “constant dialogue” with Finlay to ensure that “robust measures” are taken. Starbucks did not provide a statement.
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