Disclose the gap! A challenge to companies to publish gender pay differentials in Kenya

The Africa Women Journalism Project has identified a 'hypocrisy gap' in how multinationals treat Kenyan workers in their reporting

A ground-breaking campaign has been launched on International Women’s Day, challenging multinational companies operating in Kenya to publish the kinds of gender pay gap reports they produce for workforces in their home countries.

The campaign was launched on March 8 by the Africa Women Journalism Project (AWJP), a non-profit based in Kenya that equips women in African media with the knowledge, skills and support to shed light on gender, health and development issues affecting women and other marginalised groups.

It was a direct result of training given by Finance Uncovered to four AWJP staffers and fellows in late 2022 when they were taken through our online Understanding Company Accounts course. The course included four Zoom seminars that tested and embedded their learning and which also created wider discussions of story potentials.

By analysing the accounts of some international companies which employ staff in Kenya, the journalists were able to calculate average wages, dissect the remuneration of bosses and detect other information and claims that could yield stories.

After examining the published records of some of these companies in Kenya and the UK, the AWJP identified a “hypocrisy gap”.

Gender pay gaps reports were introduced in the UK in 2017 – many other countries have since followed suit. They have been seen as successful in shining a light on wage differentials and giving women the information to push for change.

At the same time, the PR departments of the larger corporations that are legally required to file them have seen an opportunity to portray this forced change as a tick on their Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) scorecards.

The training with AWJP concentrated on Kenya’s tea sector. As a result of colonial history, this lucrative industry is dominated by mainly UK owned companies and relies massively on low paid women picking and packing tea leaves.

The AWJP journalists analysed a number of companies and focused on Finlays, which is a major supplier to UK supermarkets.

In its UK report, Finlays boasted it was “committed to being an employer that demonstrates opportunity, fairness and equality”. It said its GPG reporting was “essential to us achieving this goal” and revealed that in 2021 it had launched “the Finlays Women in Business Forum…which is helping our female employees find their voice and supporting us in driving through the changes they tell us are needed”.

Thousands of Finlays’ workers in Kenya are employed through a UK-registered company, James Finlay (Kenya) Ltd. But those workers are not included in Finlays’ annual gender pay gap report because by law they are required only to publish figures for their UK workers.

The AWJP challenged Finlays by asking whether its stance was relevant in Kenya. How many Kenyan women were on that forum, its journalists asked? Does Finlays have the data to produce GPG reports in Kenya? Will it commit to publishing such reports?

The company’s Group HR director Tamie Hutchins welcomed the AWJP campaign, describing the topic as “vital”. She said there were currently no women on the forum because it was focused on its UK and US workforces.

She did not answer the question about data availability but pledged that by 2030, GPG reports would be published in Kenya as well as throughout the group.

The AWJP also reported from the field, speaking directly to the Finlays’ workers. One, Tina (not her real name), said that while men and women were paid similar wages, women were given far more labour-intensive tasks, such as manually sorting the tea and weeding the plantations. She said this meant women suffered chronic health issues and injuries.

Requiring companies to produce GPG reports empowers women, not just with wages but also in working conditions.

The AWJP also approached Williamson Tea, a famous high-end brand that is sold in the UK by the likes of Waitrose. Williamson Tea is a Kenyan company but is majority owned by the Magor family in the UK through British holding companies.

Williamson Tea did not respond to any of the AWJP’s questions.

The AWJP will continue to look at other industrial sectors and multinationals and try to persuade policymakers to make Kenya the first country in Africa to require large companies to publish annual GPG reports.

Below is an edited version of the AWJP article, which was published by The Elephant. It was written by Nelly Madegwa with research and data analysis by Sharon Mutia and Soila Kenya, and edited by Felista Wangari. It was overseen by Catherine Gicheru and Naima Mungai. The artwork was designed by Ezra Otieno.

Writing by Nelly Madegwa; data analysis by Sharon Mutia and Soila Kenya

A major campaign launches today (Mach 8) to challenge all large companies operating in Kenya to publish annual reports detailing the differences in pay between the men and women in their workforces.

The Gender Pay Gap campaign driven by the Africa Women Journalism Project, is being launched on International Women’s Day whose theme this year is “Embrace Equity”.

It is the first campaign of its kind in Africa and is aimed at empowering women in the workplace by giving them access to transparent information that they can use to force through change.

Despite amendments enshrining equal pay into the country’s constitution, Kenyan women in general still earn less than men for the same work, with far-reaching consequences.

Many countries around the world now require larger companies to disclose not only the differences in average pay between men and women, but also the percentages of each gender employed at every pay quartile.

These annual reports, first introduced in the UK in 2017, have been seen as crucial in monitoring the efforts companies make to have diverse workforces, be inclusive and equitable.

One leading international company that employs thousands in Kenya applauded the AWJP campaign describing it as a “vital topic”. Although it declined to produce any current data for Kenya, it pledged to start reporting by the end of the decade.

According to the International Labour Organization, the gender pay gap is a critical barrier to economic growth, and that addressing it “can have a significant impact on other key sustainable development goals such as reducing poverty”.

Gender Disparities Across Kenya’s Tea Sector

Today’s campaign focuses on Kenya’s tea sector, the second top foreign exchange earner for Kenya after horticulture. Annually, the country produces over 450 million kilogrammes of tea of which 22 per cent is exported, earning the country Sh 120 billion and making it one of the commodities that play a key role in the economy. In 2021, tea brought in Sh130.9 billion in revenue.

While gender data on employment in the tea sector is not available, 60 per cent of Kenyan agricultural workers are women.

Tea production in Kenya is divided into two clearly differentiated sectors: The big plantations and the smallholder farmers. Over 60 per cent of production takes place on small-scale farms in Kenya, while the rest takes place in big plantations owned by companies like James Finlay and Williamson Tea.

A study of gender roles in smallholder tea production in Kenya found that women are more likely to be engaged in labour-intensive tasks in tea production – including leaf plucking and transporting plucked leaves – but are excluded from capacity-building events such as training courses for producers.

A ‘hypocrisy gap’?

Some companies in Kenya’s tea sector are UK-based or owned—including Williamson Tea and Finlays, the latter of which was recently named in a BBC investigation into sexual abuse at Kenyan tea estates.

But while British companies like Finlays, for example, are required to report salaries based on gender in the United Kingdom, it does not make such reports available in Kenya.

Indeed, Finlays accompanied its 2022 gender pay gap report in the UK (which disclosed a 3.9 per cent gap) with statements and initiatives seemingly aimed at portraying a progressive image to the wider world.

“Finlays is committed to being an employer that demonstrates opportunity, fairness and equality and the work we are doing to reduce our UK Gender Pay Gap is essential to us achieving this goal,” its group HR director Tamie Hutchins writes in a foreword.

She adds: “In 2021 we launched the Finlays Women in Business Forum. We will continue to support the role of this forum in 2022, which is helping our female employees find their voice and supporting us in driving through the changes they tell us are needed.”

The AWJP approached Finlays and Ms Hutchins directly. It requested an interview with someone from its Forum and asked if it included any Kenyan women.

The company declined the interview request.

According to the latest accounts for James Finlay (Kenya) Ltd, available on the UK’s Companies House registry, it employed 6,667 people in 2021, 87 per cent of whom worked in “sales and production” such as tea-picking.

The accounts suggest that the average wage for these workers in 2021 was £2,513 (Sh372,828.68).

The AWJP asked Finlays a series of questions about these figures, including whether it had the data to produce a pay gap report for Kenya, what the pay gap was and whether it would commit to producing a report.

Although Ms Hutchins did not provide any direct answers, she wished the AWJP “all the best with your campaign on this vital topic”.

She added: “It’s great that you have looked at our UK pay gap data. While we currently only publish gender pay gap data for our UK business, we do have plans in our new sustainability strategy, which runs to 2030, to extend the measure of gender pay gap across the whole of Finlays.

“We note your question about the ‘Women in Business Network’ and can confirm this specific terminology relates to our UK and US businesses. James Finlay Kenya has a ‘Women In Leadership Programme’.

“This sees women in both senior and junior management undertaking a nine month leadership development programme facilitated by Kenya Institute of Management.

The programme’s objective is to equip women with leadership skills and provide a network where safe discussion on work-related practices and personal empowerment can take place. “Twenty-eight senior managers and 23 junior managers have graduated from the programme, and 25 women are currently enrolled.”

Meanwhile, in the field…

But such programmes have not apparently helped workers like Tina Makokha (not her real name). She has worked at the James Finlay farm in Kericho for 10 years. She told the AWJP she started out on a wage of Sh190 per day as a tea picker, and despite receiving four certificates of merit for being an exceptional employee, she earns Sh689 per day for nine hours of work per day, six days a week.

At face value, Finlays tea workers of both genders appear to be paid the same amount, according to Tina: She said men and women employed directly by the company are paid Sh689 per day to work nine hours per day, six days a week on the plantations.

However, she said the tasks given to men and women are very different: While men are paid to operate tea-picking machinery, women are given the more labour intensive roles of manually sorting the tea and weeding the plantations that often lead to chronic health issues and injuries.

Because of this, for the last three months, Tina says she has worked without pay. She is afflicted with work-related illness as a result of the agrochemicals used on the tea, but when she visits the company’s dispensary, the doctors minimised her complaints of chest congestion and chronic coughing. She injured her back while packing tea four months ago, and the company refused to pay her medical bills until the union threatened to sue on her behalf. The company reluctantly subsidised her medical treatment at the company's health centre and informed her that any specialised treatment she needed would be her responsibility.

When she refused to sign a liability waiver, the company withheld her pay. They've also stopped providing her with subsidised medical care at the dispensary.

"I'm not sure why they wanted me to sign a document that I didn't understand. I have had to forego treatment for my back because they have withdrawn their support.

"I cannot afford the treatment because it is very expensive," she says during the interview, which is punctuated by bouts of coughing.

She claims that she and other workers have complained to management about their working conditions, but their demands have been ignored. Tina has had to take out loans to pay for her medical treatment. At one point, she was admitted to hospital for two weeks without receiving any treatment as she did not have the money to pay.

The health centre's services are insufficient, forcing workers like Tina to use their meagre resources to seek treatment elsewhere.

There are also disparities with the way workers are hired and treated at the company. Tina said that the contractors the company brought in to source for workers—most of them women—are exploited. They are paid between Sh250 and Sh300 per day, while workers employed directly by the company are paid Sh689 per day.

In an interview, Tina said that even though as an employee she earns the relatively higher rate of Sh689 per day, she can barely cover her living expenses, and despite receiving certificates of merit for exemplary performance, she neither feels rewarded nor sees any promotions in the pipeline.

The company has established schools for its employees and those living in the vicinity of the extensive tea plantations. However, this is yet another example of the disconnect between reality and the directors' reporting to shareholders. Tea workers like Tina must pay a hefty fee — between Sh1,000 and Sh1,200 per month — for their children to attend the company-provided school.

Tina's daughter is still at home after scoring 328 points in the 2022 KCPE exam. Tina is unable to pay her secondary school fees because she spent all of her savings on medical treatment.

“The company has built a few schools. But these are not free. The company deducts between Sh1,000 - 1,200 every month if your child attends the school, she said. “None of us has ever gotten the scholarships that the company offers as these are usually granted to the children of the managers of their families.”

Finlays said in a statement that Tina is encouraged to report her concerns through the company’s confidential whistleblowing procedure and that it took health and safety matters seriously. The company said it had already taken direct and urgent action as a result of the allegations made in last month’s BBC Africa Eye investigation.

Why Gender Pay Gap Reporting Matters

Tina’s life is a snapshot of the negative effects of the gender pay gap, not just on women, but also on communities and the economy at large.

Research by the Council on Foreign Relations, a non governmental organisation in the United States, has indicated that paying women the same salaries as men for equal work could boost GDP growth by as much as $721 billion in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.

In Kenya, this could translate to a 12 per cent ($16 billion) increase in GDP if women's participation in the workforce matched the best country in the region in terms of gender parity, and 22 per cent ($28 billion) if women’s participation in Kenyan workforce was fully equal to men’s.

The gender pay gap is not just about pay discrimination. It arises because of inequalities women face in access to work, progression and rewards. The European Commission states that “around 24 per cent of the gender pay gap is related to the overrepresentation of women in relatively low-paying sectors such as care, health and education. Highly feminised jobs tend to be systemically undervalued.” Moreover, thanks to the glass ceiling, men dominate higher-paying jobs.

Despite these commitments, not only do women have more work hours per week than men, but they also spend more hours on unpaid work, which may affect women’s career choices. As a result, women are paid less over the course of their careers and subsequently save less for their retirement, subjecting them and their dependents to lifelong poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these consequences.

Holding Kenya’s Tea Companies to Account with GPG Reporting

To address these issues, some governments have begun passing laws mandating reporting on the gender wage gap.

The UK, where the holding company of James Finlay Kenya is based, historically had one of the widest gender pay gaps in Europe, where for every pound men earned women earned 80 pence (for every Sh154 men earned women earned Sh122).

That’s why in 2017, the UK government introduced mandatory gender pay gap reporting to narrow and eventually eliminate the pay disparity between men and women. This compelled private sector firms and public sector organisations with 250 or more employees in England, Scotland and Wales to report and publish their gender pay gap information.

The report includes figures on the percentage of men and women in each hourly pay quarter, the average gender pay gap using hourly pay, the mean gender pay gap using hourly wage, the percentage of men and women receiving bonus pay and the median gender pay gap using bonus pay.

The policy aims to make employers publicly accountable for their gender pay gaps and impel them to explain why they exist while using the gender pay gap reporting tool to inform decisions about pay structures and broader diversity and inclusion.

Four years after the policy was adopted, research from the London School of Economics indicated the legislation had narrowed the earning gap between men and women by 19 per cent.

Silence from Williamson Tea…

Williamson Tea is another major tea company and exporter in Kenya with significant links to the UK. Although listed company on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, it is ultimately majority owned by the Magor family in the UK

Its listing in Nairobi also means it has to publish its annual financial statements, which show that in 2021/22, the company’s wage total wage bill for its 1,105-strong workforce was Sh488,007,002, an average of Sh441,635. In contrast, the total paid to its three executive directors that year was Sh49,112,000, an average of Sh 16,370,666.

Moreover, its entire board of directors is male.

As a Kenyan company, Williamson Tea Kenya is not obliged to produce a gender pay gap report, but we challenged the company to provide some data and commit to doing so for our campaign.

The company had not responded to our questions by the time of publication.

* This article was produced as part of the Financial Reporting Skills for Gender Reporting Fellowship with support from the Africa Women Journalism Project in partnership with Finance Uncovered and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)