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2 Okt 2023

Kenya: Unilever allegedly "sidestepped" responsibility for tea workers' grievances with new compensation payouts for 2007 attacks; incl. co. response

Unilever is to make payments to 77 tea pickers who worked on one of its plantations in Kenya that was targeted during post-election violence in 2007. The UK law firm Leigh Day, representing the workers, said the London-based consumer goods multinational had agreed to make voluntary, or ex-gratia, payments to former workers at its subsidiary Unilever Tea Kenya, who were attacked by armed assailants at its plantation in Kericho. Unilever said that after an independent review it had identified people who missed out on financial support the company offered workers at the time.

However, workers who were compensated at the time say that it was not adequate - those who returned said they received a sum worth about £80 each, equivalent to one month’s wages, which they said was not proportionate to what they had suffered. Some of the tea workers have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. One former female employee reportedly contracted HIV after being raped.

In May 2023, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and five UN Special Rapporteurs wrote to the company referencing the 2020 complaint brought to them by Leigh Day and a coalition of NGOs. Unilever responded in June 2023. On July 17th, filers of the UN complaint sent a subsequent letter to Unilever’s CEO, urging the company again to do the right thing and provide meaningful redress to the Unilever employees. Unilever publicly responded to the letter on July 31 2023.

The claimants’ representatives said the new payments from Unilever sidestepped the workers’ grievances. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asked Unilever for its response to this claim; the full response can be read below.

For previous coverage of Unilever's response to the 2007 attacks, including a 2015 lawsuit and a 2018 complaint filed with the UN Working Group, see here and here.