True Cost of Our Tea: Sexual Abuse on Kenyan Tea Plantations Revealed

  • By teams from Africa Eye and Panorama
  • BBC news

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Sexual harassment caught on hidden camera in Kenya

Sexual exploitation has been discovered on tea estates supplying some of the UK’s most popular brands, including PG Tips, Lipton and Sainsbury’s Red Label.

More than 70 women on Kenyan tea estates, owned for years by two British companies, told the BBC they had been sexually assaulted by their supervisors.

Secret footage showed local bosses, on plantations owned by Unilever and James Finlay & Co, pressuring an undercover reporter for sex.

Three managers have since been suspended.

Faced with similar allegations more than 10 years ago, Unilever launched a “zero tolerance” approach to sexual harassment, as well as a reporting system and other measures, but a joint investigation for BBC Africa Eye and Panorama found evidence that allegations of sexual harassment were not acted upon .

The BBC’s Tom Odula spoke to women working on the tea estates of both companies. Some told him that because work is so scarce, they have no choice but to give in to their bosses’ sexual demands or be left without an income.

“I can’t lose my job because I have kids,” said one woman.

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

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

A woman also told the BBC that she was infected with HIV by her supervisor after being pressured to have sex with him.

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Some female tea plantation workers said they had no choice but to give in to their bosses’ sexual demands

To gather more evidence on the sexual abuse allegations, the BBC recruited undercover reporter Katy – not her real name – to work on the tea estates.

In one instance, Katy was invited for an interview with John Chebochok, a recruiter for James Finlay & Co. The interview turned out to be in a hotel room.

Mr Chebochok, who has worked on Finlay’s estates for over 30 years, first as an estate manager and then as a contractor owner, had already been branded a “predator” by a number of women who spoke to Tom from the BBC. Odula.

Katy was pressed against a window by Mr. Chebochok and asked to touch and undress him.

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

“We lie down, finish it and go. Then you come to work.’

Katy made it clear she didn’t agree. He finally gave up and a member of the production team – stationed nearby for her safety – called to give her an excuse to leave.

“I was so scared and so shocked. It must be very difficult for the women who work under Chebochok,” said Katy.

James Finlay & Co said Mr Chebochok was immediately suspended after the BBC contacted the company. The company said it had also reported him to police and was now investigating whether its Kenyan operation has “an endemic sexual assault problem”.

Katy also faced sexual harassment while undercover on a farm, which was run by Unilever at the time.

She was invited to an induction day where division manager Jeremiah Koskei gave a speech to his new recruits about Unilever’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.

However, he then invited “Katy” to meet him at a hotel bar that night and tried to pressure her into having sex with him – suggesting that they go back to his compound together.

Katy later said, “If my whole life had really been linked to this opportunity, I can only imagine how that encounter would have turned out.”

Katy was assigned to the weeding team – it’s hard work, six days a week, and many women ask to be moved.

The supervisor there, Samuel Yebei, asked her for sex in exchange for lighter duties.

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Text exchanged between Katy and her supervisor when she tried to arrange a meeting to discuss lighter duties

When Katy reported the behavior 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 following up to find out what action was being taken against her superiors, she received no response.

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

The new owner, Lipton Teas and Infusions, says it has “immediately suspended the two managers” and ordered a “full and independent investigation”.

An undercover investigation for Panorama reveals that women who work on plantations producing tea for PG Tips and Lipton are being pressured to have sex with their bosses in exchange for work.

Jeremiah Koskei did not respond to our request for comment and Samuel Yebei denies the allegations against him.

James Finlay and Co supplies Kenyan tea to Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets, as well as Starbucks.

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

Tesco said it takes the allegations “extremely seriously” and is in “ongoing dialogue” with Finlay’s to ensure “robust action” is taken.

On Monday, Starbucks released a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” and has taken “immediate action” to suspend purchases from James Finlay and Company in Kenya.

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