May 17, 2002
"Our research shows that the US imports Kenyan coffee processed by women who suffer routinely from violent sexual abuse by their employers and supervisors. Even their daughters, who live with them on the agricultural plantations, have been raped. Senator Baucus' amendment to the Fast Track bill will help Americans say no to such practices and help working women protect themselves," says Natacha Thys, Director of the International Labor Rights Fund's (ILRF) Rights for Working Women Campaign.
ILRF, a Washington, DC-based research and advocacy organization, in cooperation with Dr. Regina G. M. Karega, a Kenyan sociologist affiliated with Kenyatta University, will release a study today based on interviews with four hundred Kenyan women working on coffee and tea plantations and in textile manufacturing plants inside Export Processing Zones in Kenya.
The study reveals that:
Over 90 percent of all respondents experienced or observed sexual abuse within their workplaces.
95 percent of all women who had suffered workplace sexual abuse were afraid to report the problems for fear of losing their jobs. Women who reported sexual abuse were often fired or demoted.
Supervisors on coffee and tea plantations were not only abusing women workers, but also their young daughters who live with their mothers on the plantations.
70 percent of the men interviewed viewed sexual abuse of women workers as normal and natural behavior.
Victims of sexual abuse in the workplace suffered from depression, psychological instability, feelings of helplessness, humiliation and shame.
66 percent of the women interviewed believe that workplace sexual abuse is a strong contributing factor to the spread of HIV / AIDS.
Senator Max Baucus, (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has introduced an amendment to the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or "fast track" bill that would add language to prohibit workplace sexual abuse as part of the General System of Preferences (GSP), a program which provides duty-free access to the US market to developing countries. This "manager's" amendment does not require floor debate and will be included, automatically, in the version of TPA that is sent to conference committee.
"Women in Kenya have no laws to prohibit sexual abuse in the workplace, and there are no corporate codes of conduct that they can look to for help. International law, including standards set by the International Labor Organization (ILO), needs to be strengthened. Currently there is no ILO Convention specifically prohibiting sexual harassment, and U.S. trade laws did not include a prohibition against discrimination or harassment. Senator Baucus' use of the US system of trade preferences to empower these women fills a crucial gap, " according to Thys.
For more than a decade, the ILRF has used petitions filed under the GSP to force US administrations and exporting countries to remedy abuses of internationally recognized labor rights. ILRF was instrumental in bringing the needs of working women to Senator Baucus' attention.