London (AFP/APP): Two UK tea manufacturers on Monday faced accusations of sexual abuse on tea plantations in Kenya, according to an undercover investigation by the BBC.
“More than 70 women on Kenyan tea farms, owned for years by two British companies, told the BBC they had been sexually abused by their supervisors,” the broadcaster said on its website.
The report focused on a Kenyan plantation that at the time was owned by UK household goods giant Unilever, and another one that remains owned by the tea group James Finlay & Co.
The BBC spoke with victims who said they had no choice but to give in to sexual demands of managers or lose their jobs. One was reportedly infected with HIV by her supervisor.
Secret filming also showed that local bosses had sought to pressure an undercover BBC reporter for sex.
Unilever told AFP it was “deeply shocked by the allegations in the BBC programme”.
The group added in a statement that it had “worked hard for many years to address the very serious issues of sexual and gender-based violence against women in the tea industry.
“This included improving the gender balance of team leaders, upgrading the grievance handling process and strengthening awareness-raising and training.”
Unilever added it was “very disappointed that the measures put in place to make it easier to report, detect and investigate abuse failed to detect and address the issues highlighted by the BBC”.
Nathalie Roos, chief executive of Lipton Teas and Infusions, now owned by a private equity group, added that the company was “shocked and dismayed” by the allegations.
“We immediately suspended the managers at the centre of the allegations and launched a full independent investigation,” Roos said in a statement sent to AFP. “We will take the most stringent action if this inquiry, which is still ongoing, finds any evidence of wrongdoing.”
“As a woman and a new CEO of the tea market leader, I am taking a determined approach to making a meaningful difference for people across the industry, including women’s safety, which is particularly close to my heart,” she added.
James Finlay & Co did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the BBC, James Finlay said it had suspended one manager and was investigating whether its Kenya operation faced “an endemic issue with sexual violence”.
Unilever last year completed the sale of its global tea business, including the brands Lipton and PG Tips, to CVC Capital Partners in a deal worth 4.5 billion euros ($4.8 billion). It has since been rebranded Lipton Teas and Infusions.

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