Sexual exploitation claims in Kericho tea farms true, MPs told

James Finlay

Workers pick tea in a section of James Finlay Kenya’s tea farm in Kericho County in this file photo. Victims of sexual harassment at the multinational are yet to come forward and record statements with the police or appear before the Parliamentary Committee on Labour.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Tea multinational James Finlay has registered 1,527 cases of sexual harassment and drug and substance abuse among its employees in the last five years.

Eight of the cases are still pending in a Kericho court, while 92.7 per cent have been dealt with legally and concluded, the company’s management says.

It also revealed 33 per cent of managers were women in 2014, but the figure has fallen to 26 per cent.

The National Assembly Departmental Committee on Labour, chaired by Runyenjes MP Erick Muchangi, was told that one case of sexual exploitation has resulted in the accused being jailed for life.

The revelations come on the backdrop of an expose by the BBC on the sexual exploitation of female workers in Ekaterra and James Finlay – which operate in Bomet and Kericho counties.

International supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s have condemned the incidents while Starbucks suspended purchasing tea from James Finlay in Kenya as a result of the documentary.

It has also emerged that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the Parliamentary Committee on Labour have not traced victims of sexual harassment in the two multinationals as they have not come forward to record statements.

Mr Sammy Kirui, James Finlay’s Corporate Affairs Director, and Mr Daniel Kirui, the Director for Human Resources, told the lawmakers that many people involved in sexual harassment and exploitation of female workers have been jailed for 15 to 20 years.

“Not all the 1,527 cases are of sexual assault or exploitation in nature, as they include substance and drug abuse, financial impropriety and general criminal activities,” Mr Kirui said.

He told the committee during a meeting at the company’s headquarters in Chepkembe, Bomet County, that measures have been put in place to prevent a recurrence of sexual exploitation by managers and supervisors.

The two were at pains to explain why the company did not have women supervisors and managers in the tea estates.

“We have trained 500 team leaders in our estates on gender-based violence (GBV) policies and reporting structures. We are upscaling the training of workers on the issue, enhancing monitoring, reporting and dispute resolution mechanisms so as to end the menace,” Mr Kirui said.

The managers said the company does not mediate on cases of gender-based violence, but hands them over to the police.

It was also revealed that the firm was not aware of the sexual harassment cases before the expose was published.

“As a result of the expose, we have engaged external institutions to audit our systems, tell us the existing gaps and the way forward to tighten the reporting structures,” Mr Kirui stated.

Mr Muchangi said MPs were disappointed that despite the policies in place, the multinational registered in Scotland failed to detect the sexual exploitation cases, with managers and contractors being the perpetrators.

“We should not be here discussing these issues of sexual exploitation by managers in a company with international footprints. The matter has shown Kenya in a very bad light and action must be taken,” Mr Muchangi said.

The committee chairman added that the high HIV/Aids prevalence in Kericho County could be attributed to sexual exploitation in the tea estates.

Senator Gloria Orwoba said Parliament is disappointed that there were no women in supervisory of top management levels at James Finlay in what may have further abetted the gender-based violence.

It was noted that stigma and fear among the victims could be the reason the cases of the vices have not been reported to the police or any relevant government agency.

“There seems to be fear among the victims and their fellow employees that apart from the stigma facing them, they will be dismissed by the employers should they come out in the open and record statements,” Mr Muchangi said

Ms Florence Bore, the Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Social Protection, recently said that tea multinationals should take proactive measures to deal with the incidents, curb a recurrence and protect the vulnerable workers, most of whom happen to be women in the estates.

The managers shown in the documentary have gone underground for fear of being arrested.

The companies say they have been suspended.

Studies have shown that sexual assault victims fear recording statements with police.

The victims fear getting dismissed or being stigmatised should they come out in the open and report the cases.

The tea multinationals have very few female managers, contributing greatly to the sexual exploitation of the employees.