Activist in tea firms sexual abuse case found dead at home

Dr Godfrey Onyango

Dr Godfrey Onyango, the chairman of Justice and Environment Foundation, was found dead at his home in Nakuru County on March 24, 2023.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

A key player in a case by current and former workers who were sexually exploited at two multinational tea companies in the South Rift region has died.

Dr Godfrey Onyango, chairman of the Justice and Environment Foundation, was found dead at his home in Lanet, Nakuru county on Friday evening, according to family members.

He was involved in the petition by current and former workers of Ekaterra (formerly Unilever) and James Finlay - operating in Bomet and Kericho counties - for the two companies to admit liability in exposing them to sexual exploitation by managers and supervisors.

Dr Onyango had not complained of any sickness prior to being found dead in the sitting room of his house , having collapsed at around 5.30 pm, his family said.

Mr Tom Mboya Onyango, his  younger brother, told Nation.Africa that he did not have any visible injuries.

“I found him, having collapsed and died in the house. He was okay in the morning. I checked on him at around 11am,” he said, adding he was alone.

The body was taken to Umash Funeral Home in Nakuru ahead of a postmortem.

Dr Onyango, who leaves behind a widow and three children, was actively involved in human rights and environmental issues especially in the workplace, which made him come in contact with victims of sexual exploitation in the companies.

On Monday, March 20, he called the Nation and requested not to be named in a series of publications on the sexual exploitation and harsh working conditions in the tea industry.

“There is so much going on. I do not want to talk about it. But do not use any of my statements in your story. Kindly talk to wakili (lawyer) Gilbert Kemboi," he said.

At least 50 current and former workers of the two companies have, through Kericho advocate Gilbert Kemboi of Kemboi Chambers Advocates, written demand notices to the multinationals, demanding that they admit liability or be sued for compensation for violation of their basic rights.

An expose by the BBC on February 20 revealed that contractors, managers and supervisors were secretly recorded preying on female workers so they could keep their jobs or be assigned light duties.

“Finlay’s Kenya Ltd and Ekaterra PLC have violated several provisions of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, Employment Act, 2007, Sexual Offences Act, 2006, and Occupational Safety and Health Act 2007. The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 1981 and the International Labour Organization Convention No.111 and 115” Mr Kemboi stated in a recent press briefing.

Mr Kemboi said the women were subjected to rampant, repetitive, non-consensual sex that resulted in a high rate of HIV infection, and that their families have broken up as a result.

The companies say they were not aware of the exploitation but have since suspended those named in the expose and taken remedial measures to ensure such issues do not arise in the future.