Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Tea Sector

Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Tea Sector

THIRST is conducting a human rights impact assessment of the tea sector. Working with civil society and industry across the world, it is exploring 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. Other impacts may be the result of sector-wide practices, cultural noms, economic pressures etc.

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 conducting 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 a three year period, starting in June 2021, it is working with a wide range of civil society actors, industry and other stakeholders as well as technical experts to deliver the HRIA in four 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 a global survey of tea producers to understand what is helping and hindering them from providing tea workers’ and farmers’ with conditions that meet international human rights standards
  • 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
  • monitor and report on the impact of these solutions on tea workers and farmers,
  • assess the need for further research and/or action, fostering learning on positive initiatives.
  • continue to encourage and facilitate dialogue between civil society and the tea industry in order to hold duty bearers to account for realising human rights in the tea sector.

The goals of the HRIA

  1. The tea industry has a pragmatic, time-bound “highway map” co-created with civil society stakeholders – including tea workers’ and farmers’ representatives – for their empowerment and full realisation of their human rights. This can frame roadmaps developed by other industry and civil society actors.
  2. Civil society organisations have a shared body of evidence on which to base their advocacy and programmes providing 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.

Who is involved?

To deliver this ambitious study, THIRST is working 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 also work closely with the tea industry and its representatives to ensure that findings are well informed and recommendations are practicable.

Lead Researcher and Project Manager

THIRST CEO, Sabita Banerji

Technical Advisors

Caroline Brodeur, Business and Human Rights Specialist, Oxfam America
Céline Gilart, Head of Social Impact & Sustainability, Twinings
Ella Frankel, Senior Advisor: Food, Farming & Fisheries, Ethical Trading Initiative
Jenny Costelloe, Executive Director, Ethical Tea Partnership
Justin Rippon, Tea Procurement Consultant
Narendranath Dharmaraj, Strategic Advisor and Operations Consultant in Tea
Ottilie Cunningham, Tea Buyer, Fortnum & Mason

Phase 1. Research & Communications Assistant

Alysha Shivji, Doctoral Researcher in the Business and Human Rights Catalyst at the Alliance Manchester Business School

How is it funded?

Phase 1 was supported by the Ethical Trading Initiative, IDH (The Sustainable Trade Initiative) and an anonymous donor (not connected with the tea sector).

For Phase 2, THIRST is in discussion with a number of industry stakeholders and is also seeking independent funding from donor organisations and multi-stakeholder initiatives.

Get involved

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