- By the Africa Eye and Panorama teams
- BBC News
3 hours ago
Sexual harassment in Kenya filmed by a hidden camera
Sexual exploitation has been exposed on tea farms that supply some of Britain’s most popular brands including PG Tips, Lipton and Sainsbury’s Red Label.
More than 70 women on Kenyan tea farms, owned for years by two British companies, told the BBC they had been sexually abused by their bosses.
Secret filming showed local bosses on Unilever and James Finlay & Co plantations pressuring an undercover reporter for sex.
Three managers have now been suspended.
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 a joint investigation for the BBC Africa Eye and Panorama found evidence that allegations of sexual Harassment not charged were acted upon.
The BBC’s Tom Odula spoke to women who worked on both companies’ tea farms. Some told him that the scarce work leaves them with no choice but to give in to their bosses’ sexual demands or have no income.
“I can’t lose my job because I have kids,” said one woman.
Another woman said an area manager stopped 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 boss after being pressured into having sex with him.
Some tea farm workers said they had no choice but to give in to their bosses’ sexual demands
To gather further evidence of the sex abuse allegations, the BBC recruited undercover reporter Katy – not her real name – to work on the tea plantations.
In one instance, Katy was invited to an interview with a James Finlay & Co recruiter named John Chebochok. The interview took place in a hotel room.
Mr Chebochok, who has worked on Finlay’s plantations for more than 30 years, first as an estate manager and then as a contractor owner, has already been described as a ‘predator’ by a number of women who spoke to the BBC’s Tom Odula.
Katy was pushed against a window by Mr. Chebochok and asked to touch him and undress.
“I’ll give you some money, then I’ll give you a job. I helped you, help me,” he said.
“We lie down, finish and go. Then you come and work.”
Katy made it clear that she didn’t agree. Eventually he gave up and a member of the production team – who was stationed nearby for her safety – called her 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,” Katy said.
James Finlay & Co said Mr Chebochok was immediately suspended after the BBC contacted the company. The company said it had also reported him to the police and is now investigating whether its Kenyan operation has “an endemic problem of sexual violence”.
Katy also experienced sexual harassment while undercover at a farm then run by Unilever.
She was invited to an introductory day where a division manager named Jeremiah Koskei gave a speech to his new employees 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 – and suggested they return to his grounds together.
Katy later said, “If my whole life had truly depended on this opportunity, I can only imagine how that encounter would have unfolded.”
Katy has been assigned to the weeding team – it’s hard work, six days a week, and many women ask to be transferred.
The supervisor there, Samuel Yebei, asked her for sex in exchange for lighter duties.
Text exchange between Katy and her manager as she tries to set up a meeting to discuss lighter work
When Katy reported the behavior to one of Unilever’s sexual harassment officers, she was told: “Stick to your principles. Don’t give your body in exchange for a job.”
Although she asked 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 Kenya operations while the BBC was secretly filming.
The new owner, Lipton Teas and Infusions, said it had “immediately suspended the two managers” and ordered a “full and independent investigation”.
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, Tesco and Starbucks supermarkets.
In response to the BBC 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 “continuous dialogue” with Finlay to ensure “robust action” is taken.
On Monday, Starbucks issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” and had taken “immediate action” to suspend purchases from James Finlay and Company in Kenya.
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