Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Tea and sex

Tea accounts for about 20 percent of Kenya's gross domestic product and is one of its main exports.

"Tea pickers are paid very little and the working conditions in the farm can hardly be friendly; can you imagine waking up to face the cold weather and morning rain to pick tea without any protection?" asked Peter Obiero, an official at the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union. "The houses they live in are also very tiny and can hardly contain a family with children; this forces most of them to leave their families in the rural areas..."

Underpaid and living in poor conditions far from home, tea pickers in Kenya's vast plantations are trying to boost their income by selling sex. Kenya's Rift Valley has a general HIV prevalence of seven percent .

Consolata Awuor, a single mother of two who works on a large tea farm, says her job as a tea picker does not bring in enough to pay her rent, feed and clothe her family, and pay her sons' school fees, so she moonlights as a sex worker in Kericho town."For us women, we get even less pay because we cannot pick as much tea leaves as the men," she said. "Together with a few friends, we have rented a tin room in town where we provide sex and sell alcohol ... most of our clients are our fellow tea workers."

Other tea workers like David Wanjala "When I came here seven years ago I brought my family with me, but I later realised I couldn't afford to keep them here; I took them back home and I now live alone...The money I am paid here is too little even for one person ... because of these frustrations, I used it to buy sex and alcohol. Sex is cheap here because even the women who work here are paid little and they use their bodies to get extra income."

Many large tea companies distribute condoms to employees and hold regular forums to educate them about HIV. One such company is Unilever Tea, one of Kenya's largest. But their concern is not a humanitarian one but simple cold economic facts.
"We realised that the company was losing tremendously due to high HIV prevalence amongst employees, especially those in the lower cadres, into which tea pickers fall," said Irene Cheruiyot, who runs the HIV programme. "Most employees living with the virus cannot be productive because of the toll it takes on their lives. If they pick less tea it means that the factory will have to operate at below optimum, so they will be forced to bring in more manpower, which leads to additional costs,"

HIV/AIDS worry businesses because the disease eats into their profits . But the simpler solution , remove the poverty conditions of their workforce that promote prostitution , would also eat into their profits - but more so .

No comments: