BBC expose: DPP Haji orders probe into 'sex for work' claims at tea farms

A tea harvesting machine in one of the farms by James Finlay company. [Nikko Tanui, Standard]

 The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji has directed the Inspector General of Police Japheth Koome to investigate allegations of sexual abuse at tea plantations operated by two foreign companies.

This follows a report by BBC, which revealed that more than 70 women had been sexually abused by their managers.

Dozens of women told the broadcaster they have been forced into sex by their bosses at the plantations owned by British companies, Unilever and James Finlay, for them to retain their jobs.

Mr Haji yesterday said the investigations will get to the bottom of the claims, as calls mounted for Kenyan authorities to take action.

He spoke as US-owned company Starbucks said it had suspended tea purchases from James Finlay & Co in Kenya, adding it was “deeply concerned”.

More UK retailers condemned the allegations and said they were monitoring the allegations before taking action.

British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriot yesterday said she is “concerned by the allegations of appalling behaviour made in this documentary” adding that “sexual abuse and exploitation has no place in society.” 

“I welcome the commitment by the companies to investigate, cooperate with the Kenyan authorities, and take action to protect staff in Kenya,” she tweeted.

The Rainforest Alliance, a producers’ lobby which promotes respect for human rights among growers, condemned the allegations. “We are deeply concerned by the widespread violence against women highlighted by the BBC on certified plantations in Kericho County,” said a spokesperson.

“We have been in contact with local stakeholders as well as other actors along the supply chain to agree on actions to address this egregious challenge in a systematic way.”

The Alliance said it will report back on actions to be taken following its investigation. 

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai condemned the sexual exploitation. “The mentioned culprits should be arrested immediately, and the British and Dutch embassies should state their position,” he wrote on Twitter.

Kericho Woman Representative Beatrice Kemei said the BBC report highlighted the “entrenched” sexual harassment at “tea multinationals operating in our country”.

The Fairtrade Foundation, which promotes efforts to ensure farmers in developing nations are treated fairly, described the allegations as “appalling”, terming the report as a #MeToo moment for tea sector.

The #MeToo movement took off six years ago in the US, prompted by accusations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Women around the world took to social media to disclose sexual harassment and assault across workplaces and colleges, spawning investigations and toppling high-profile men from positions of power.

In the BBC investigation, one woman said she had been infected with HIV by her supervisor after being forced into having sex with him. James Finlay & Co said it had suspended the manager caught on camera demanding sex, and had reported him to the police. The company told BBC it was investigating it its Kenyan operation has “an endemic issue with sexual violence”.

Lipton Teas and Infusions said it had suspended two managers and had ordered a “full and independent investigation”.