Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Tea Sector

Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Tea Sector

THIRST is embarking on a human rights impact assessment of the tea sector. Working with civil society and industry across the world, it is seeking to understand how the human rights of women and men working in tea can be better protected.

Photo by Richard Collier: Tea Plantation Worker (11)

Why is it needed?

According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs): “In order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts, business enterprises should carry out human rights due diligence. The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed.”

Breaches of the human rights and labour rights of tea workers – the majority of whom are women – have been reported for many decades. Issues such as low pay, poor living conditions and sexual abuse frequently hit the headlines. Over the almost 200 years of the global tea trade’s history, many organisations and companies have attempted to address problems such as poverty, poor housing, sanitation and healthcare. This has resulted in many local improvements.

Some business enterprises are also beginning to conduct human rights impact assessments in parts of their tea supply chain, as recommended in the UNGPs. However, as the recent HRIA of Lidl GB’s Kenyan tea supply chain found; “Most impacts result from market dynamics and the way that suppliers and producers within Lidl’s supply chain operate, as opposed to resulting solely from Lidl’s direct activities.” The same is likely to apply to any individual company.

To really tackle the underlying problems, we need to examine those market dynamics and other sector-wide factors that are driving human rights breaches for tea workers and farmers. And that is exactly what THIRST is now doing.

What is THIRST doing?

THIRST is beginning work on a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) with a strong gender lens, taking into consideration the very dynamics of the tea industry itself, its global nature, the interdependence of its various parts and the context within which it operates.

Over the next three years it will seek to work with a wide range of civil society actors, industry and other stakeholders as well as technical experts to deliver the HRIA in three phases:

  • review the extensive literature available on human rights issues in the tea sector
  • fill in the gaps (for example there is plenty of information about Assam, very little on Indonesia)
  • conduct interviews with actors along the whole value chain from workers to consumers, and including stakeholders such as trade unions, NGOs and governments
  • work with technical experts to look at the wider political economy, and the commercial, social and legislative context within which the tea sector operates
  • analyse the findings against a framework of ILO and human rights standards, prioritise the human rights risks and assess what leverage the industry has to address the underlying causes of breaches
Phase 3: ACTION
  • conduct multi-stakeholder roundtable meetings to verify the findings and develop work plans to act on them
  • publish the findings
  • help to monitor the progress of the resulting work, assess its effectiveness and refine plans if necessary

What will be the results?

This should result in a deeper, shared understanding of the dynamics of the industry, how they may be driving breaches of human rights and how these breaches impact differently on women and on men and other vulnerable groups.

Actors at various levels of the value chain will better understand what actions they need to take (or stop) to reduce the risk of negative human rights impacts on women and men.

Civil society organisations will have co-created a shared body of evidence on which to base their advocacy and programmes.

And there will be better, more trusting communication between actors at different stages of the value chain, meaning that it will be easier to resolve problems in future.

Who is involved?

The project will be steered by several technical advisors; experts in a range of related fields and geographies – including THIRST’s Board of Trustees.

The Lead Researcher and Project Manager is THIRST CEO, Sabita Banerji, who has extensive experience of leading HRIAs in other commodity supply chains including tomatoes, wine, tuna and coffee.

Support and assistance will be provided by THIRST’s Research and Communication Intern, Valeriia Bondar-Chagnaud and other volunteers.

To deliver this ambitious study, THIRST will work closely with civil society organisations and academic institutions around the world who are already working in this field, drawing on existing initiatives and suggesting additional ones where the need arises.

We will also work closely with the tea industry and its representatives to ensure that findings are well informed and recommendations are practicable.

How will it be funded?

THIRST has a number of strong bids in place for independent funding from grant giving organisations.

Get involved

To find out how you or your business, trade union, NGO or other organisation can get invovled, please do contact us.