On Monday evening, a shocking BBC documentary titled “Sex for Work: The True Cost of Our Tea” exposed the extreme sexual exploitation of female workers at the James Finlay tea firm in Kenya. The documentary lifted the lid on the rot in James Finlay tea farms and the sexual harassment and assault that has been happening for decades.
The BBC investigation, which was a joint effort between BBC Panorama and BBC Africa Eye, found that over 70 women who work on the plantations had suffered some form of sexual harassment at work. These victims worked on plantations owned by consumer giant Unilever and James Finlay, which is the second-largest tea company operating in Kenya’s Rift Valley and supplies tea to Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets.
The documentary revealed that the victims were assaulted sexually by desperate and helpless men for work favors, lighter duties, and promotions at the tea farms. One woman claimed that she had been infected with HIV by her boss, who demanded sex.
Another victim said that a manager had cancelled her work until she agreed to have sex with him. “It is just torture; he wants to sleep with you, then you get a job,” she said. “I can’t lose my job because I have kids,” said another woman who was forced to comply.
The BBC team also revealed how John Chebochok, a recruitment manager for Scottish firm James Finlay and Company, invited the BBC’s undercover investigator, who was identified as “Katy” (not her real name), to a job interview in a hotel room. Katy wore a secret camera and was pinned against a window by Chebochok, who demanded sex in exchange for a job.
The documentary triggered swift action by James Finlay Kenya, which sacked with immediate effect the two contractors exposed in the documentary, John Chebochok and John Asava. The company also barred them from entering James Finlay Kenya premises in Kericho, and allegations against them, as televised by BBC, were reported to the police.
In addition, James Finlay Kenya offered direct employment to all employees who were working under the two alleged serial sex predators. The company also stated that it is investigating whether its Kenyan operation has “an endemic issue with sexual violence.”
Sainsbury’s, which is one of the supermarkets that sources tea from James Finlay Kenya, responded to the findings by telling the BBC that the “horrific allegations have no place in our supply chain.” Tesco, another supermarket that sources tea from James Finlay Kenya, said that it is in “constant dialogue” with the company to ensure “robust measures” are taken.
Unilever, which owns some of the plantations where the sexual harassment and assault took place, told the BBC that it is “deeply shocked and saddened” by the allegations. The company added that any employees who breached its Code of Conduct have been dismissed, and any criminality reported to the police.
The documentary has sparked outrage on social media, with many people expressing their disgust and demanding justice for the victims. The revelations in the documentary shine a spotlight on the endemic issue of sexual violence and harassment in the workplace, particularly in industries where women are vulnerable and have limited options.
It is essential that companies take responsibility for creating safe working environments for all employees and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.