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Kenya: Unilever accused of blocking access to justice for workers it allegedly failed to protect from ethnic violence at Kericho tea plantation in 2007

“Blood on the Tea Leaves: Kenyan Workers Demand Reparations From Unilever”, 27 January 2021

The attackers killed at least 11 plantation residents … They looted and burned thousands of homes and injured and sexually assaulted an unknown number of people…

A contested presidential election triggered the violence. The candidate favored by Kericho’s local population—and openly backed by many Unilever managers—lost to the politician perceived to have support from minority tribes…

Unilever said the attacks on its plantation were unexpected … But witnesses and former Unilever managers say the company’s own staff incited and participated in the attacks …

Former managers from Unilever Kenya admitted to the court that the company’s top management … discussed the possibility of election violence in several meetings but only ramped up the security for its senior personnel, factories, and equipment.

… [I]ts corporate parent in London maintains that … victims should sue the company in Kenya … But the workers say that a lawsuit in Kenya could spark more violence, including from their earlier assailants, some of whom still work at the plantation.

In 2018, a judge in the United Kingdom ruled that Unilever’s London headquarters could not be held liable for the failures of its Kenyan subsidiary. Now … [workers] are looking to the United Nations to step in…

Leigh Day argued that its Kenyan clients had a right to sue Unilever in London…

Unilever’s lawyers nonetheless insisted that the victims should file their case in Kenya and suggested the tea pluckers “band together” and “raise funds from friends and family.”

Unilever has won plenty of awards and commendations for its support for female workers. Oxfam, CARE International, Women Deliver, and the International Center for Research on Women all hold it up as the feminist corporation par excellence and praise its top male executives as allies.

UN financial records show that soon after the Kenyan workers filed their case against Unilever, the corporation bumped up its yearly contributions to UN Women, from less than $40,000 in 2015 to more than $1 million a year since. Unilever applauds UN Women on its website and in conferences for helping it achieve its goal “of empowering 5 million women workers by 2020” and protecting the rights and safety of female tea pluckers. Similarly, UN Women’s website, social media pages, brochures, and annual reports celebrate Unilever … for their moral leadership.

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