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International Tea Buyers Cut Ties With KTDA over Director in Sex Abuse Expose

Chebochok KTDA Lipton Finlays

International tea suppliers James Finlay Limited and Lipton Teas and Infusions, have called for the immediate removal of John Chebochok as Director of Toror Tea Factory, following a scandalous exposé by the BBC regarding his involvement in a sexual misconduct case. 

In response, KTDA rejected the election of Chebochok as the director of the Toror Tea Factory, an industrial unit under the management of the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA).

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In a letter penned by Group Corporate Affairs Director Ben Woolf on Wednesday, Finlays referenced allegations of sexual assault lodged against Chebochok following a February 2023 BBC Africa expose.

In the expose, Chebochok and one John Asava were secretly filmed preying on women workers at Finlays’ factory in Kericho in exchange for employment. Despite the allegations, Chebochok was last week elected tea factory director in Kericho in an election presided over by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Despite not being formally charged, the undercover footage and survivor testimonies presented in the BBC documentary were deemed irrefutable. Finlays terminated Chebochok’s contract and barred him from their property, also notifying local and national authorities. 

“We are writing to request that you immediately remove John Chebochok from his position as Director of Toror Tea Factory, a KTDA factory,” said Finlays in the letter addressed to senior KTDA officials.

“As you know, as soon as Finlays became aware of the allegations made against Mr. Chebochok in the BBC documentary of February 2023, we terminated his contract with Finlays, barred him from entering our property, and reported the allegations to the local and national police.”

The company is concerned that Chebochok’s continued role in the KTDA undermines efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence in the tea industry and jeopardizes the reputation of Kenyan tea globally.

“It is our strong view that it is untenable for Mr. Chebochok to hold any position within the KTDA. Critically, allowing Mr. Chebochok to hold a position of authority in the KTDA serves to counteract the excellent work being done by many stakeholders across Kenya and globally to tackle the issue of sexual and gender-based violence on tea farms,” stated the company.

“It also undermines our customer/supplier relationship and puts the reputation of the KTDA and the wider Kenyan tea industry, at risk. Please be aware that we will not be able to continue to purchase tea from Toror Tea Factory while Mr. Chebochok holds the role of Director.”

Lipton echoed Finlay’s sentiments, urging relevant authorities to reverse Chebochok’s appointment and prevent such incidents in the future. Consequently, Lipton has ceased purchasing tea from the Tegat/Toror factory and urged other industry partners to follow suit until appropriate measures are taken.

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“Allowing Chebochok, a figure central to serious allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, to stand for and subsequently win election undermines President Ruto’s ambition for Kenyan tea to be recognized worldwide as a mark of quality. It is imperative that the tea sector in Kenya upholds the highest standards of ethics and social responsibility in the global market.” said Lipton

“Lipton Teas and Infusions had been the largest buyer of tea from the Ainamoi zone. In light of these developments, we have immediately ceased purchasing from the Tegat/Toror factory and we are urging our industry partners to do the same until appropriate measures are taken to address this serious issue.” the Tea company stated.

The sequence of events began in February 2023 when the BBC aired a documentary that exposed serious misconduct by two contractors, including Chebochok, at James Finlay Kenya (JFK). Upon learning of these allegations, Finlays swiftly implemented measures to enhance the safeguarding and welfare of their employees. 

Following the acquisition of JFK by Browns Investments Plc in November 2023, a comprehensive investigation led by Partner Africa was initiated to understand the root causes of the misconduct. The final report, received in late 2023, revealed numerous risks to individuals at JFK, such as sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination. 

It also highlighted the failure of grievance mechanisms, inadequate gender programs, and issues with worker representation. The root causes were identified as power imbalances, organizational culture issues, and a lack of commitment to human rights and gender equality.

KTDA responded with a statement clarifying their position and the election process. “The Tea Act 2020 was enacted by the Kenyan government to reform the tea sector. The responsibility of conducting elections was bestowed upon the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Mr. John Chebochok was cleared through this process to run for directorship at Tegat Tea Factory,” the statement read.

“He was elected by one of the six electoral areas of the factory on 28th June 2024 and the shareholders of the factory will have to make a final decision at a special general meeting on whether to accept him as a factory director or not.”

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