A new investigation on tea farms in Kenya has highlighted the prevalence of sexual exploitation in the sector. Unfortunately, this problem goes beyond just tea and is endemic across the agricultural sector in Africa. As such, the risk of businesses in the area being complicit in sexual exploitation is high. Does your organisation have a detailed understanding of how to protect the women and girls in your supply chains?
Sexual assault; Gender-based violence and harassment
The BBC Africa Eye and Panorama investigation released last month showed the prevalence of sexual exploitation of women by their superiors on Kenyan tea farms. Unfortunately, this issue is not unique to tea farming or to Kenya. The investigation brings attention to sexual gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the workplace more broadly in agriculture within Africa.
Whilst sexual GBVH occurs in other sectors such as garment making, agriculture often occurs in remote, rural locations where perpetrators have increased opportunity to sexually assault and harass employees1. In Africa, in addition to tea farms, other reports highlight the issue within the banana and flower sectors. Although women make up 40% of the agricultural labour force in Africa2, the issue remains largely unreported across agriculture as a whole.
There are several factors which drive the prevalence of sexual GBVH in agriculture. These drivers include incentive structures where decision making on performance rests with an individual superior; farming locations which lack alternative employment options, mechanisms to report sexual GBVH and access to sexual GBVH support services; on-site employee accommodation; non-sex segregated changing rooms; and non-lockable sanitary facilities. Social attitudes towards women within the locality or country can also increase the risk of sexual GBVH. It is therefore critical for businesses with these risk drivers present in their supply chains to increase vigilance and action, and for those lacking awareness to seek transparency in these spaces.
As highlighted in STOP THE TRAFFIK’s February 2023 Monthly Brief, existing sexual harassment policies and grievance mechanisms created by the companies who own the forementioned tea farms have proven ineffective. Sadly, cases of exploitation and human rights abuses in supply chains are inevitable. It is recommended that businesses gain a detailed understanding of the local context and risk drivers of sexual GBVH within supply chains and take a participatory approach to monitoring the effectiveness of workplace policies. It is essential to know where and how to direct risk mitigation by seeking advice from trusted expert organisations in the ESG sector, and from on-the-ground organisations local to direct and indirect suppliers.
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