British tea manufacturers, including the famous Lipton brand, were accused by officials on plantations in Kenya of sexually abusing more than 70 female workers on Monday, according to a BBC investigation.
“More than 70 women on Kenyan tea plantations, which have been owned by two British companies for years, have told the BBC they have been sexually abused by their bosses,” the British broadcaster reported on its website.
The plantations are said to be owned by Lipton Teas and Infusion, which was recently a subsidiary of British food and hygiene products giant Unilever, and fellow countryman James Finlay, a subsidiary of the Swire group.
According to BBC witnesses, several victims said they had no choice but to give in to their bosses’ sexual demands in order to get or keep their jobs. One of them says she is infected with HIV.
A journalist from the network, who posed as a potential employee on the two companies’ farms, was herself pressured into accepting sex for work.
Unilever, whose sale of its Kenya operations occurred during filming, said it was “deeply shocked and saddened” by the allegations, according to the BBC’s comments.
The new owner, Lipton Teas and Infusions, claims to have “immediately suspended the two managers implicated in the report” and ordered a “full and independent investigation,” according to the same source.
For his part, James Finlay assured the chain that he had suspended one of his officers and reported it to the police, and launched an investigation to determine whether his operations in Kenya suffered from an “endemic problem of sexual violence”.
When asked by AFP, the companies concerned did not immediately respond.
Unilever completed the sale of its tea division, which includes 34 brands including Lipton, Tazo and Pukka, to CVC Capital Partners fund for €4.5 billion in July.