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Kericho Tea Estates

Unilever has been growing tea in Kenya since 1924. The estate in Kericho covers over 8,700 hectares and is Rainforest Alliance certified. There are 12,000 permanent workers and 4,000-5,000 seasonal workers

Responding to challenges

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. Unilever also offers 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. As with any society where work and private lives are tightly intertwined, there continue to be particular challenges that we are working hard to address.

In December 2013, Unilever published an update on working conditions at our tea estates in Kericho. This followed allegations of sexual harassment of female workers in an August programme by ARTE (a Franco-German TV channel). These allegations were investigated and an extensive independent review made six recommendations to improve the gender balance within the Team Leader community and the grievance handling system. Unilever fully accepted these recommendations which were implemented immediately.

Update on working conditions at Kericho

Since December 2013 progress has focused on the prevention of incidents through increased education and awareness, as well as improving the grievance and reporting procedures. We continue to be committed to sharing our learnings and actions. We present our update below:

1. Strengthening the management team

  • In 2013 three significant female appointments were made with a new Code Compliance Officer, Human Resources Manager and Welfare Officer joining the team. The team has now been expanded to include four female Welfare Assistants.
  • In 2014 the local Leadership Team was strengthened with the appointment of a new Managing Director of Kericho. The Vice President (VP) of Tea Procurement and Operations also relocated to Kenya.

2. Code of Business Principles investigations

  • In 2013 extensive investigations into Code of Business Principles (the Code) violations led to strong disciplinary action.
  • These investigations have continued and the number of sexual harassment cases being reported has increased in line with a raised awareness of the Code and the grievance process. 
  • Bi-weekly Code Committee meetings actively review reported cases and current investigations and preventative measures to address any breaches are developed.

3. The grievance process

  • In 2013, the grievance process was revised and plans were made to improve the confidential ethics channel.
  • The ethics hotline remains a free service on Safaricom (the mobile phone network provider) and all Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan-based employees can choose to speak with a Kiswahili speaker. Since 2013 we have worked with the hotline service provider to improve the quality of reporting and the time taken to connect a caller to the appropriate language speaker.

4. Enhancing the safety of women and girls and men and boys

  • Since 2013, a number of recommendations and policies related to enhancing the safety of women and girls and men and boys have been implemented.
  • In 2014, a survey was carried out by an independent organisation to identify factors and conditions that enhance safety and recommendations were made. 
  • These recommendations have now been implemented, resulting in a substantial improvement in the way sexual harassment issues are addressed. The changes include further awareness raising of sexual harassment issues and what constitutes sexual harassment and more opportunities for girls to engage in social activities and mentoring. 
  • We recognise that the challenge remains to eliminate the root causes and can only be achieved by providing education on sexual harassment and gender-based violence against women and girls in partnership with others in the wider community.

5. The Dignity Enhancement Committee

  • In 2013, the terms of reference for the Dignity Enhancement Committee (DEC) were strengthened and the DEC hearings became part of Leadership Team (LT) meetings.
  • The LT continues to provide support, guidance and oversight to the DEC. In monthly meetings, the LT reviews areas of concern and reported breaches of the Code. They stay close to the issues and help to design appropriate interventions that address root causes and prevent escalation.

6. The role and responsibilities of Team Leaders

  • Since 2013 changes have been introduced to ensure that the balance of power within the Team Leader community has improved with increased oversight by the Human Resources (HR) and Welfare teams.
  • Today just under 40% of Team Leaders are female, a significant increase from 3% in 2013. We continue to work towards the 50% target. 
  • HR’s increased involvement has led to a number of improvements including:
    • Greater transparency in recruitment - from the placing of adverts to the completion of panel interviews - with 91 female Team Leaders and 33 female Leaf Inspectors being recruited.

Monitoring progress

Progress is continually monitored through monthly reviews with the VP of Tea Procurement and Operations and bi-monthly meetings with the Chief Procurement Officer. In 2014, our Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman and Chief Supply Chain Officer Pier Luigi Sigismondi visited Kericho to experience progress at first hand.

The programme of investment in Kericho has continued. The provision of solar power lighting and phone charging capability to 100% of the workers houses, as well as improved street lighting in the villages, is now complete. Lightning arrestors have been placed in every house and the community halls have been fitted with televisions and board games. A sanitation improvement programme is due to be completed in 2016, with new fittings being installed in 102 new toilet and bathroom buildings. These improvements continue to represent a significant long-term investment by Unilever, and remain leading edge in the tea industry.

Our work in Kericho is part of a long and challenging journey by Unilever to operate to the highest standards. However, we also know the issues we face are not unique either to Unilever Tea Kenya or the tea industry. In parallel to raising standards on our estates and those of our strategic suppliers, we continue to share our experience, including improvements in safety, security, gender diversity and grievance reporting, with other industry partners to help raise standards globally.


Spotlight on Kericho

Unilever has identified eight salient human rights issues and one of these is harassment. Kericho was the subject of a case study on this issue in our first Human Rights Report, published in June 2015. See Download for more.

April 2015

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