KENYA – Unilever has agreed to make voluntary payments to 77 former tea pickers who worked on one of its Kenyan plantations, Unilever Tea Kenya, during the post-election violence in 2007.
The London-based consumer goods company reached this decision following an independent review that identified individuals who did not receive the financial support offered by the company to workers at the time.
In December 2007, Kenya experienced widespread violence related to allegations of electoral fraud, leading to attacks on Unilever’s plantation in Kericho.
Seven individuals lost their lives, and more than 50 women were subjected to sexual assault during the attacks, which occurred along ethnic lines, with the Kalenjin targeting smaller groups, including the Kisii, who comprised the majority of plantation workers.
After the attacks, the plantation was temporarily closed, and when it reopened, Unilever provided monetary compensation, furniture, bedding, clothing, medical support, and counseling to workers to replace looted items. Workers who did not return were offered redundancy packages.
However, the affected workers argued that the compensation they received was insufficient and did not adequately reflect the trauma they had endured.
Some reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and one former female employee allegedly contracted HIV after being raped.
In 2015, UK law firm Leigh Day filed a case on behalf of the victims in the UK, alleging that Unilever had failed to take adequate measures to protect its employees from harm.
The case was ultimately dismissed, and Unilever has consistently denied responsibility for the violence and any negligence in its duty of care to its employees and their families.
In 2020, 218 of the tea pickers submitted a complaint to the UN, alleging that Unilever had violated international human rights standards by not adequately assisting them. This complaint is currently ongoing.
In May, a UN working group on human rights and business expressed “deep concern” that the victims had not received access to justice or an effective remedy.
Alex Kemunto, a former Unilever employee, recounted the horrifying experience during the 2007 attack, where armed assailants drove workers out of their homes, leading to injuries, fatalities, and dismemberments.
Kemunto, who bears scars from a machete attack, emphasized that Unilever had not taken responsibility or offered an apology.
He mentioned that upon returning to work in 2008, there was no discussion of the attacks or support offered to the affected workers.*
The representatives of the claimants argue that the new payments from Unilever do not address the workers’ grievances.
Unilever declined to comment on the recent payments and had sold the Kericho plantation last year.