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24 Feb 2021

Kenya: Kericho tea plantation workers continue to demand adequate compensation from Unilever following violent attacks in 2007 while they await UN Working Group decision; Incl. Unilever's response

In December 2007, following the outcome of a disputed presidential election, a series of violent attacks took place against Kisii ethnic minority workers living on Unilever’s plantation in Kericho, Kenya. At least 11 workers were killed in the attacks and hundreds more were assaulted and subject to sexual violence. Workers have accused Unilever of failing to protect them from violence: they claim Unilever Kenya’s senior management was aware of the likelihood of violence but failed to increase security to protect them. Furthermore, witnesses and former Unilever managers allege the company’s own staff incited and participated in the attacks.

The victims lost all their possessions during the attacks and say Unilever stopped their wages for six months. Only those who returned to the plantation received compensation - £80 each (equivalent to just one month’s wages) - which workers, civil society organisations and law firm Leigh Day have described as inadequate. Survivors are calling on Unilever to compensate them meaningfully for the long-term physical and psychiatric injuries which have left many unable to work more than a decade after the attacks.

In 2018, a judge in the UK ruled that Unilever’s London headquarters could not be held liable for the failures of its Kenyan subsidiary. In July 2020, 218 workers filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights & the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. The complaint alleges that Unilever breached its commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights under which companies have a responsibility to remediate and mitigate adverse human rights impacts to which they have contributed or are directly linked.

In February 2021, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) invited Unilever to respond to calls for Unilever to provide adequate compensation to the survivors. Unilever said it stands by the response it posted in July 2018 and it will cooperate fully with the UN Working Group and Special Rapporteur, if they wish to further investigate the allegations. The response is included below.

Concerns have also been reported about Unilever’s relationship with UN Women and international NGOs. BHRRC invited these organisations named by media outlets to comment. UN Women said it is unable to comment on specific cases but calls for systemic change to achieve gender equality across all industries. Oxfam issued a statement saying it believes the survivors of the attacks and urges the UN Working Group to respond in favour of the Kericho survivors and join the call for more effective non judicial grievance mechanisms. The International Center for Research on Women said it has communicated its concern about the allegations to Unilever and it awaits the outcome of the UN's process. CARE International said the attacks on the Kericho tea plantation were identified as a risk on due diligence before its most recent partnership with Unilever and it continues to work with businesses to go beyond ‘do no harm’ and to proactively seek to do good. The full statements are included below.

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