BBC sex exposé: Four managers go underground, affected tea workers avoid police

Workers pick tea leaves

Workers pick tea leaves: The BBC documentary contains footage showing two contractors, who have worked on Finlays' farms, taking part in incidents of serious sexual misconduct. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

A week after managers and supervisors in two tea multinationals – James Finlay and Ekaterra (formerly Unilever) – were exposed for preying on female workers and job seekers, the victims are yet to come out and record statements with the police.

Nation.Africa has learnt that the managers have also not been summoned to appear before the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) over the matter that has since assumed an international dimension.

The four managers implicated in the 49-minute BBC Africa Eye documentary that ran on February 20, have since gone underground after being suspended by the multinationals.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has since advised the DCI to investigate the issue.

“This matter is being handled by the CID, but none of the victims have come forward so far to record statements which would be used against the suspects in the course of the investigations, arrests and prosecution,” a Kericho County senior police officer who declined to be named told Nation.Africa.

He confirmed that an investigation has commenced over the sexual exploitation claims where 70 women went on record revealing tribulations they faced at the hands of their supervisors and managers at the tea companies.

A majority of the workers in the tea estates said they had not been interviewed by the police.

"We are not aware of any statements that have been taken from the victims or colleagues," a worker at Ekaterra company said, a statement echoed by others at James Finlay.

Sexual exploitation and human rights abuses have for decades thrived in the tea industry with women workers being the greatest victims.


On the outside, the picturesque tea estates that have become the tourism signature of Kericho and Bomet counties in the South Rift region are a sight to behold.

But on the inside, workers have been subjected to suffering, with harsh working conditions, sexual exploitation, back-breaking workloads and poor pay.

The documentary by the BBC Africa Eye worked to confirm a position held by trade unions over the years on what really goes on behind the heavily guarded lush green tea estates.

The two multinationals with roots in Britain are in the eye of a storm after their managers and supervisors were recorded seeking sexual favours from female job seekers and workers.

They are facing backlash from the government, trade unions and leaders with many outlets in Europe threatening to cut links.

It comes hot on the heels of a protracted fight between the multinationals and local leaders, backed by trade unions, on mechanization of the process of plucking tea in the estates leading to a massive layoff of workers in the last 20 years.

It has also emerged that multinational tea companies have over the years entrenched the use of contractors to outsource labour in a bid to avoid employing workers on permanent and pensionable terms.

European outlets Tesco and Sainsbury’s have condemned the incidents of sexual exploitation while Starbucks said it had immediately suspended purchasing from James Finlay & company in Kenya.

Some of the victims terminated their pregnancies; others contracted HIV, while a mother working in the estates claimed she had, with her two daughters, been forced to give in to sexual advances by the managers so they could keep their jobs.

Labour and Social Protection CS, Florence Bore, said the firms need to take measures to deal with the incidents, curb recurrence and protect employees.

“Sexual exploitation is not acceptable. Action will be taken against the individuals named while victims will be given psycho-social support,” the minister said.

“Employers should ensure workers are protected from exploitation. Women must be accorded the dignity they deserve.”

Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union Kericho Branch Executive Secretary, Dickson Sang, said the multinationals have banned employees from joining the union.

“The abuse of workers is horrifying. Let the world know what is happening. We have spoken about this repeatedly,” he said.

Mr Benard Kipkoech Ngetich, a Nakuru-based lawyer, called for a constitutional petition against the tea companies.

“A constitutional petition against the companies should be instituted for subjecting the women to violation of their rights to dignity, for rape and indecent assault. It is unfortunate that the companies have allowed the sexual abuses to thrive,” Mr Ngetich said.

Dr Erick Mutai, the Kericho Governor, said the sexual abuses brought to the open in the documentary were only the tip of the iceberg on human rights abuses workers have been forced to endure in the multinational tea companies.

“It will not be enough to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of the sexual offences, but the companies should take full responsibility and compensate the affected workers for the trauma they have been subjected to,” said Dr Mutai.

Dr Mutai and his Nandi counterpart Mr Stephen Sang have been pushing for a review of the lease terms for the land occupied by the multinationals and to have them pay the current market rates.

The Governors also want the companies to reverse their mechanization policies and revert to the manual plucking of green leaves.

Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok has, however, said there is a need for the companies to engage the counties and strike a balance on land rates and leases.