The IUF Global Sugar and Palm Oil Program organised a joint activity with the General Agricultural Workers Union of TUC of Ghana (GAWU) and the Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation workers in Ghana of the week of Mach 5-10. Around 80 GAWU members in three different workshops in the same number of palm oil estates, discussed sexual harassment as a health hazard at the workplace and the role of the unions in preventing it. Large trans-nationals in the palm oil sector are heavily involved in the ownership and management of three said estates.
The activity was held under an IUF Sugar/Palm Oil project that looks at strengthening affiliates in six African countries, which organise workers in the so-called “energy crops”: sugar cane for ethanol – that can be combined with or replace gasoline –, and oil palms from which palm oil can be used to produce biodiesel.
The IUF Global Sugar and Palm Oil Program (“IUF Sugar/Palm Oil”) has been working on Occupational Health and Safety using a hazards-approach (substantially different from the behavioural approach) with emphasis on the sugar sector of Kenya, where KUSPW developed a policy and an action plan to create safer and more secure work environments. (See KUSPW documents on OHS here.) Continuing that work, sexual harassment was examined as a psychosocial health hazard, which can dramatically affect the health of workers and can substantially increase the risks of accidents. In this work, KUSPW also produced a policy and an action plan to preventing sexual harassment at the workplace. (KUSPW documents on preventing sexual harassment are available from this link.)
Parallel to this work, on the other shore of Africa, IUF Sugar/Palm Oil has worked since 2016 with the GAWU in Ghana and FAWU in Cameroon, also focussing on occupational health and safety but also quickly developing an approach to sexual harassment as a health hazard. These latter efforts were complemented by GAWU’s work on Gender Issues.
March 2018 was an occasion for two unions, GAWU in Ghana and KUSPW from Kenya (one in each of the “energy crops”) to get together and share experiences and knowledge under the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil African regional work. The workshops were held on the week of March 5-9 at three locations: the Benso Oil Palm Plantation (BOPP), a subsidiary of Wilmar International; the Twifo Oil Palm Plantation (TOPP) where Unilever is a majority shareholder; and the Ghana Oil Palm Development Corp. (GOPDC), part of the SIAT Group, with head office in Brussels but agricultural operations in several African and Asian countries. The workshop dates were chosen around the International Women’s Day, March 8th.
Two Kenyan delegates participating in the program: Caroline Busaka, from Chemelil Sugar Company, and Miriam Wanyama, from Nzoia Sugar Estate who are working two aspects of sexual harassment: Caroline is compiling cases that have taken place in sugar, interviewing victims and analysing the cases seeking to identify in concrete the different ways in which sexual harassment occurs, the reaction from victims, the action (or inaction) of management and unions. One of Caroline’s valuable contributions to the workshops was to talk about of her own experience while interviewing the victims and seeing their great efforts to recount their ordeal. Miriam, on her side, introduced her survey on how workers experience sexual harassment by pointing that usually the victims are reluctant to recount their dreadful experience – while others preferred not to talk about it. Miriam’s survey offered anonymity. She did two surveys: the first covered sixty workers in four sugar estates, targeting mostly members of the local union branch; the second with forty factory workers in only one estate. While her analysis of these two first exercises is still in its initial phase, her findings point decisively towards that both male and female workers are concerned with sexual harassment, that a great portion of them have experience at least one episode of harassment, but, at the same time, there seems to be a general lack of knowledge on what to do to prevent it and the process to follow in case of any occurrence.
Even at this very early stage the work by Caroline and Miriam provides valuable and clear leads for KUSPW to draft and implement actions to preventing sexual harassment in Kenya’s sugar sub-sector.
Two other topics were included in the workshops agenda: GAWU presented their work on Gender and the support to several Women’s Committees at company level, while the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil coordinator presented the IUF global work with trans-national companies and the regional work on Occupational Health and Safety, which served as a springboard to tackle the sensitive issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Miriam – Summary survey on sexual harassment – 2018-03-01
- Caroline – OHS impact of sexual harassment – Case Studies – 2018-03-01
 Some information about Caroline and Miriam is in order. Both are employees in the sugar sector, Caroline as a laboratory analyst at the Chemelil mill, Miriam as a trainer at Nzoia Training Centre; both are members of the KUSPW leadership; both are young mothers (of four and three children respectively), and the work they have done, do, and plan to continue doing on sexual harassment has been entirely a personal initiative. In this initiative, the coordinator can only claim a secondary role as long-distance electronically-based advisor and as in-house editor but would like to express his immense satisfaction at seeing younger workers taking the post in this work. Caroline and Miriam: thank you.