by Esther Aoko

Ever wondered what happened after the sex for work in Kenyan tea plantations documentary by BBC Africa was aired …did the managers get fired, and did the women get justice?

Last month, BBC Panorama and BBC Africa Eye aired a very heartbreaking investigative documentary that was dubbed, Sex for Tea which exposed the sexual exploitation of tea workers at James Finlay Kenya Limited and Ekaterra (formerly Unilever Tea Kenya Limited). The documentary revealed that more than 70 women had been sexually abused by different male managers of the two companies who demanded for sex from them in exchange for jobs and better working conditions. Some of the women interviewed in the documentary said they acquired HIV and were impregnated by the perpetrators. The survivors further shared that no action was taken on their reports despite the companies having a “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual abuse. The worst part is that this is not a new occurrence. Studies in 2007 and 2011 by SOMO – an organization which investigates multinationals – found that women were coerced into sex by managers if they wanted a job, promotion or better working conditions on these same tea plantations.

A month later, Erick Muchangi who is the chairperson of the National Assembly Committee on Labour which is investigating the sexual abuse of tea workers in Kericho said that they are still facing difficulties because none of the survivors have come out to record a statement. Additionally, Kemei, who is the Kericho Women Representative, said that most of the victims have not done so because they are afraid of being victimised, and that they risk losing their jobs, but she urged them to come out and record statements. The UK-based farm, James Finlay, which operates in Kenya, announced on Tuesday, February 21, 2023 that it had sacked two contractors who were featured in the BBC documentary. Even though we appreciate the efforts by Finlay, this is not enough. More serious action needs to be taken to ensure that the perpetrators pay for their crimes because these people could easily get employed in other companies and continue the cycle of violence there.

From the statements shared, it is clear that this case is going to take a long time, as cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence always do in Kenya. To think that we have not learnt anything as a country about the importance of being intentional about creating an enabling and safe environment where survivors can access justice without fear is truly devastating. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these women for a moment, is it that they do not want to get justice or is there a more compelling reason why even the thought of coming out to report their managers is crippling? During the documentary, one of the survivors mentioned that she had to give in to her manager’s demands because getting the job was the only way she could feed her children. It is reasons like these that have silenced and continue to silence survivors of violence. To many, these reasons may not seem compelling enough to stop someone from getting the justice that they deserve, but the truth is to these women, these reasons are concrete enough as going against them is life-threatening to them.

Aside from economic reasons that have come out strongly, survivor blaming is also one of the major reasons why survivors of violence do not seek justice. After the documentary was aired you could see numerous comments on social media from the public who were using the most absurd reasons to shift the blame from the male managers to the women. In the comments, the women were being asked why they accepted their manager’s demands when they could easily say no. Well, could they really say no? Throughout the documentary, the women clearly painted the desperate situations that they were in which left them with no choice but to accept. It is such comments that the survivors are most likely to encounter when they go to police stations to report the violations and that is why most of them have opted to remain silent.

It is of key importance for the police to speed up their investigations to ensure that this does not end up adding on to their list of many unsolved sexual and gender based violence cases. The longer the justice process, the more likely it is for the survivors to lose the will to continue fighting and following up. This not only causes survivors to lose hope in the justice system, but it also leaves perpetrators free to continue violating others. These women deserve justice not only because they are someone’s mother, sister, friend, relative, wife or partner. They deserve to get justice because they are human beings and have the right to live their lives free from all forms of violence.

However, the issue is not only the delays with investigations. For years, survivors of violence have shared numerous reasons as to why they do not report these cases, but are we really listening to them? Are we being compassionate enough to see the situation from their point of view? Are we really being intentional about working to eradicate these reasons so that they are no longer a hindrance to the attainment of justice? These are some of the very crucial questions that we should ask ourselves if we are ever going to create change in our justice system. Instead of coercing the survivors into reporting, the police should first work to assure the survivors that they will not only not lose their jobs but they will also be protected from the perpetrators when they report. Without doing this, the survivors are less likely to come out as to them, justice is not as urgent as meeting their daily needs. And they are right you know, access to justice has been made to be a luxury that only the privileged can afford.

Peer reviewed by Anne Mugo, Lucy Wanjiku, Emma Bell, Fiona Hale.

Follow Esther on Twitter @esther_aoko

If you’d like to reference this article, please use the following suggested citation:

Aoko, E. (2023) What happened to the Kenyan Sex for Tea case? Making Waves blog, March 29 2023. https://makingwaves.network/2023/03/29/what-happened-to-the-kenyan-sex-for-tea-case/

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