Kenya: KUSPW leading the fight to prevent sexual harassment in the sugar sector

From 8 to 12 October, the IUF Sugar & Palm Oil project held activities with the Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation Workers (KUSPW) to finalise a three-year effort on the union’s stance regarding preventing and fighting sexual harassment in Kenya’s sugar sector. This program, which run from May 2015 to April 2017, followed a pattern developed to work on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS): a bottom-to-top approach that strengthens the union and builds its political profile in the sector. Utilizing the OHS experience, allowed focussing on sexual harassment as a health hazard in the workplace. The results are embodied in two basic documents: Policy on Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Sugar sub-sector and an accompanying Action Plan.

KUSPW national leadership adopting policy documents on Sexual Harassment

The focus of the October activities was a discussion and adoption by KUSPW national leadership of the policy documents, at a workshop on 9 October. The leadership also recommended the documents be the basis for a union activities to educate workers on sexual harassment issues and negotiate clauses in the collective bargaining agreements that reflect KUSPW concerns. Additionally, the documents would be a tool to engage other sugar “stakeholders” in a sector-wide campaign to prevent sexual harassment. These documents are relevant because of the current situation country-wide. For instance, although Kenya’s Employment Act (2007) mandates that employers with more than twenty employees have a policy on sexual harassment, jointly elaborated with employees or their representatives, only one sugar company out of the country’s fourteen has such policy in place.[1]

Empirical evidence shows that sexual harassment is a common occurrence in the sugar sector, with women being most of the victims. While harassment seems to be more visible in the factory-type of jobs, the evidence points to a higher rate of occurrences in farming operations. Among possible factors explaining such difference might be a comparatively more protected environment for factory workers, higher employee awareness, empathy among work colleagues and a more effective union presence. In comparison, farming operations happen in rather isolated environments, where insecure and casual jobs are common, where is a low level of awareness among workers, coupled with weak support networks. The sugar sector hosts an estimated 33,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect.

Chemelil branch leaders reviewing company policy on sexual harassment

The October activities also included two other workshops. One aimed at supporting the Chemelil union branch in their preparation for a review of the company policy on sexual harassment, as Chemelil is the only sugar company that has a policy on the matter. The policy was produced in 2014 without the participation of the union or the workers and, with the KUSPW policy documents adopted, the branch has the tools to improve the company policy in areas such as the definition of sexual harassment, to include ways to expedite the resolution of cases, to ensure that the perpetrator (and not the victim) is to borne any change in job conditions, to press for company-sponsored sensitisation and education programs, and to ensure the full union participation in training programs and case resolution. This experience will be relevant to other KUSPW branches.

Women’s Group at Nzoia

A third workshop was held at Nzoia Sugar Estate with a group of women that has maintained steady contacts and has collaborated with the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil project. The workshop was relevant because, encouraged by the approach taken by the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil project, two female union members took upon themselves to compile hard information on sexual harassment in sugar. Miriam Wanyama launched a survey on how workers understand sexual harassment, while Caroline Busaka started a research on alleged cases in the sector. The Nzoia women group cuts across the union membership as it integrates rank and file members and elected leaders, and their on-the-ground experience provides further insight into the issue and offered the opportunity of interviewing victims of sexual harassment. Some participants confirmed their personal commitment to the success of the survey and the research and, by extension, to the success of the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil project.[2]

Caroline presenting advances of her research

Miriam talking about her survey

After the workshops, the project coordinator and KUSPW outlined a program to ensure the sustainability of the work, giving shape to a KUSPW independent program for 2018 that might be combined with occasional interventions of the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil project. Recommendations focussed on utilising the study circles to  disseminate the policy documents and negotiating CBA clauses to reflect KUSPW concerns on preventing sexual harassment, as negotiations will be held in 2018. These are in addition to follow-up the review of the Chemelil policy and the support to the survey and research above mentioned. Under the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil project two main recommendations were made: the sharing of KUSPW experience on OHS and on preventing sexual harassment, particularly at the meeting of the IUF Africa Regional Committee (early December), and implementing a proposed three-party activity involving Ghana’s GAWU, KUSPW and the IUF Sugar and Palm Oil Program in the first quarter of 2018.

With the completion of this work, KUSPW became the only union affiliated to the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) that has develop policies in Occupational Health and Safety and on Preventing Sexual Harassment covering the entire economic sector in which it organises. Their efforts are a key contribution to strengthening the Kenyan trade union movement.


Background documents.

[1] Two main Kenyan pieces of legislation take sexual harassment in their normative: the 2007 Employment Act and the 2006 Sexual Offences Act.

[2] In a specially rewarding note for the coordinator, the KUSPW members presented the initial findings of their work in all three workshops, where they were congratulated by their peers, elicited a lively exchange of information (as well as many questions), and got the national leadership’s support to complete their tasks.

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    • Miriam Wanyama on October 26, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    This is one of the greatest achievements KUSPAW has achieved while partnering with IUF Global Sugar. We have become a unique affiliate of COTU,Kenya with two policies developed by the union: Health and Safety and Sexual harassment policies. This is a milestone in achieving social justice. Personally I pledge my loyalty to move on IUF work to greater miles.Thanx to Jorge Chullen, the IUF Global Sugar coordinator. To anyone else reading this, you can make it.

    • Caroline Busaka on October 27, 2017 at 11:05 am

    This is a great achievement for the sugar industry in Kenya. Having a policy on sexual harassment is definitely one of the obvious ways in trying to eliminate the vice in the industry. The involvement of the union makes it even easier for the members to understand what sexual harassment is, its effects to the workforce and possible disciplinary measures one is likely to be subjected to if found guilty. It is therefore important that we as the union take the lead in educating our members, to save them from possible termination of their jobs.

  1. Being the only union affiliated to Central Organization of Trade Unions Kenya that has adopted two policies on Occupational Health and Safety and Sexual Harassment at the workplace, we have set a precedent for the other more than 40 unions affiliated to COTU to emulate. I wish to thank IUF for the support they have extended to KUSPAW to develop these documents. We endeavor to continue with this relationship to strengthen the labour movement both in the sugar subsector in Kenya and also internationally. Long live KUSPAW. Long live IUF .

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