Kericho Tea Estates
Unilever has been growing tea in Kenya since 1924. The estate in Kericho covers over 8,700 hectares of land and is Rainforest Alliance certified. Kericho employs around 5,500 permanent workers and several thousand temporary workers during peak season. Up to 50,000 people live in our company villages.
Safety for our employees and their families is non-negotiable, which is why in 2010 and 2013, we were saddened to hear of allegations of sexual harassment towards female workers on our tea estates in Kericho.
After a full independent investigation, we made a number of changes aimed at 1) improving gender balance within the Team Leader community and 2) improving the grievance handling process.
Unilever Tea Kenya (UTK) is safeguarding human rights with a dedicated Welfare Department which has to date, reached thousands of beneficiaries in its Safety of Women, Boys and Girls Programme. The program is anchored on the commitments of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan.
A better place to work
In Kericho, Unilever provides workers with pay and working conditions significantly above the agricultural workers’ norm - approximately two and a half times the statutory minimum agricultural income in Kenya.
We also offer housing, annual leave pay, transport allowances, paternity and maternity leave, free health care, nursery and primary school education, clean potable drinking water and free meals during working hours.
One of the key ways to make a difference is to prevent the risk of such incidents occurring. We have therefore focused on increased education and awareness programmes aimed at improving knowledge of specific sexual harassment issues, what constitutes as sexual harassment itself and how people can engage in our grievance process where they believe something isn’t right.
To further encourage people to talk openly about it, we also hold Friday Safety Talks every month which continues raising awareness amongst our workers and the local community.
As well as encouraging our workers and local community to talk openly about such issues, we also share our learnings and actions publicly through our Human Rights reporting and have been working with a number of partners including UN Women for a number of years to address the systemic issue across the industry and beyond.
A community-wide approach
One of the first recommendations from the independent investigation related to how we could strengthen our management team in-house to be more inclusive. We have since appointed a new Code Compliance Officer, Human Resources Manager, a Welfare Officer and four Welfare Assistants – all of which are female.
We also strengthened the Leadership Team with the appointment of a new Managing Director of Kericho. We also relocated our Vice President (VP) of Tea Procurement and Operations to Kenya.
Our Human Resources Team and Welfare teams are now playing a more active role in ensuring a good balance of power across our Team Leader community. This more active role has resulted in some significant improvements for UTK. For example, we have seen greater recruitment transparency - from the placing of adverts to the completion of panel interviews. By the end of 2019 we are proud to say that we had appointed a total of 79 female Team Leaders which accounts for 27% of the total Team Leaders in place.
This is a good sign that we are on our way to achieving our ongoing target of 50%, especially compared to where we were back in 2013, where female Team Leaders made up only 3% of our total.
Because of the sensitivities related to dealing with Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), UTK have also invested in employing two counsellors and a SGBV clinical officer to support anyone affected by sexual harassment. A pool of 300 peer counsellors have also been trained and help provide psychosocial support where needed.
The Dignity Enhancement Committee
Back in 2013, we strengthened the terms of reference for the Dignity Enhancement Committee (DEC) and the hearings became part of our Leadership Team meetings.
The Leadership Team continues to provide support, guidance and oversight to the DEC. In monthly meetings, the Leadership Team review areas of concern and reported breaches of the Code. They stay close to the issues and help us to design appropriate interventions that address root causes and prevent escalation.
Zero tolerance of any form of discrimination, including sexual harassment, is embedded in the policies that govern our operations and value chains. These include our Code of Business Principles (PDF | 6MB), our Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy (PDF | 170KB), our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) and our Responsible Business Partner Policy (PDF | 8MB).
We also have democratically elected employee committees to support and enhance the grievance handling process in the workplace and within the villages. These include: The DEC itself, village elder committees and the workers’ welfare committees. All play a critical role in building trust and have ensured clear oversight of issue resolution.
In total there are over 1,000 employee representatives (DEC members, village elders, worker’s committees, shop stewards) that have been trained as ambassadors and help us implement human rights and manage the risk of SGBV.
We also work hard to build relationships and partnerships with different stakeholders including NGOs, police and other government departments to comprehensively address SGBV.
Under our broader Opportunities for woman pillar, we promote safety for women and girls to reduce vulnerability to gender-based violence. Under this pillar, we work with different stakeholders and expert organizations such as UNWOMEN, UNICEF, WE, Digital Opportunities Trust, IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative) and the government of Kenya to drive the programmes in the business and within the local community.
So far, over 900 youths have been trained on employability and skills for starting a business. 1,500 men and women have been reached with in-depth training on financial management and life skills and over 600 have been reached with programmes related to developing ICT skills.
We have revised our grievance process dramatically, starting with improving the confidential ethics channel for raising grievances itself. This is an ethics hotline which is a free service to all Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan-based employees, providing support through the callers’ native language.
Also available on the estate are a number of ‘drop-boxes’ where people can leave an anonymous note to trigger a potential grievance in confidence.
We hold bi-weekly Code Committee meetings to actively review reported cases, ongoing investigations and preventative measures to address any breaches. We continue to emphasize the importance of our Code of Business Principles at Kericho and have seen alignment in the level of awareness and the number of cases being reported.
As well as through the measures mentioned above, progress is continually monitored through monthly reviews with the VP of Tea Procurement and Operations and through bi-monthly meetings with the Chief Procurement Officer who reports directly in to our Chief Supply Chain Officer, a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE).
Our programme of investment
Whilst we see a greater level of understanding amongst our employees and the community, there is still some way to go in ensuring the safety for all our employees and their dependents. That is why we’re taking a more holistic approach, looking at ways we can enhance the livelihoods of those living and working at Kericho, raising global standards as we go.
Under the ‘Adopt a school’ Initiative, we have reached over 9,000 students in all the 23 UTK schools mentoring them on academics, life skills and safety through the implementation of the ‘Kings and Queens’ clubs - a joint partnership between Unilever and the Gender Violence and Recovery Centre.
To further enhance safety and dignity for our employees, UTK has been running a village improvement program to provide housing improvements and maintenance for all our employee houses clustered in 112 villages. All the villages are enhanced with social amenities including 50 social halls, 162 water borne toilets, village security lighting, solar lights for all the houses and lightning arrestors.
We have been working hard to enhance the health and wellbeing of our workers too, allocating parcels of kitchen gardens to them in order to provide increased levels of food security and diversify nutrition. Further to this, we launched an Employee Assistance Program to support with counselling, training a pool of 300 wellbeing champions who reach out to their colleagues on a weekly basis to discuss any mental health issues and provide them with support they need.