Unilever Kenyan Tea Farmers Abuses: London MP calls Britain to end legacy of slavery, systemic racism in Africa

Labour Party MP, Bell Ribeiro Addy, has condemned the ominous silence by British government over the plight of Kenyan tea farmers. She said the continuous “legacy of slavery, colonialism and systemic racism” going on some countries can no longer be tolerated, and called out Britain to put a stop to rights abuses going on in tea plantations in Kenya.

Addy spoke while addressing “Black Lives Matter” demonstrators who stormed Unilever’s Headquarters in Central London to protest over alleged exploitation of Kenyan farmers working in tea plantation.

She said: “I think when we are talking about these issues, people don’t realise how much the legacy of slavery and colonialism is still apparent in many peoples’ lives, not just in this country but in the systemic racism we face quite directly for tea workers in Kenya who are still working on plantations with very little rights of their own and being paid slave wages.”

She added that Britain as a country cannot preach fair wages, human rights and still allow British companies to continue exploiting Kenyans.

In a protest tagged “Bend the Knee, Don’t Drink The Tea” the demonstrators claimed Unilever was exploiting Africans, especially Kenyan farmers working in tea plantation. They claim workers are paid less than $100 to pick 80kg of tea leaves a day with a pro rata reduction of pay if they pick less.

It will be recalled that a community of 218 local Kenyan tea plantation workers had earlier dragged the multinational consumer food company to UN following 2019 decline of UK Supreme court to entertain an action filed in UK by Kenyans against Unilever. The court held that Unilever’s Kenyan subsidiary was responsible for the risk management hence the case should be heard in Kenya.

The court’s decision fueled belief among the workers that Unilever cannot be held responsible for the abuse, according to the spokesperson of the workers.

In the case against the consumer food manufacturing giant, Unilever, the workers alleged violation of international human rights standards by not adequately assisting them as victims of 2007 ethnic violence resulting from a disputed election.

In the petition, the workers accused Unilever of a breach of its obligation to remediate any human rights abuses to which it has contributed, which is central to the UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights, and which the company has endorsed. They request the UN’s working group on business and human rights to make a declaration to this effect, and to call on the company to provide redress.

But Unilever spokesperson reportedly strongly rejected any allegation of wrong doing in the case of the tea workers, insisting that the multinational provided significant support to those employees impacted by the violence.

The tea workers lived on a plantation in Kericho, in western Kenya, operated by a Unilever subsidiary and at that time hosting more than 10% of the company’s global workforce. Most were from the Kisii tribe, which is not indigenous to the area. After the 2007 presidential election, violence broke out across Kenya, leading to more than 1,300 deaths nationwide.

Attackers who invaded the Kericho plantation assaulted hundreds of workers and their families leaving in their wake seven dead, many raped and while others were seriously injured, according to the complaint.

“This was the most serious known case of human rights abuse suffered by the largest concentration of Unilever workers anywhere in the world,” said the report.

Following the violence, Unilever closed the plantation temporarily and sent workers home. The victims say they were not paid for six months, “exacerbating their situation”.

Daniel Leader, a lawyer with Leigh Day, the firm that filed the complaint on the victims’ behalf, says that Unilever “relentlessly hid behind its corporate structure” to prevent the case proceeding in the UK. The complaint requests a UN statement on “litigation strategies used by parent companies to distance themselves from subsidiaries and shield themselves from liability for human rights abuses occurring in their corporate group.

“A lot of these issues and abuses take place in Africa, where impunity is a big issue,” he said. “If even companies who are claiming to be world leaders in [principles] are flouting them when faced with actual victims, then that’s a big problem.”

The attacks following election at the plantation has been described as the ‘most serious known case of human rights abuse suffered by Unilever workers’.


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