THIRST News Update – March 2023

THIRST News Update – March 2023

Highlights: BBC exposé of widespread sexual abuse in Kenyan tea plantations: stakeholder responses. Supermarkets publish HRIAs on tea supply. W Bengal gov gives land rights & housing to tea workers. Sri Lanka estates push for new labour model.

Image: The consistant demands of tea plantation workers have been land rights and minimum wage (Photo sourced by Purnima Sah) 101 Reporters

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Please consider making a contribution to help us continue to help you. This will enable us to continue producing this Update, maintaining our unique Knowledge Hub of resources on human rights in the tea sector, convening roundtable discussions on topical issues, and conducting vital research into human rights in the tea sector, such as our ongoing Tea Sector Human Rights Impact Assessment. Thank you.




  • THIRST’s response to exposé of sexual exploitation in Kenyan tea
  • New resources on the Knowledge Hub
  • Update on tea sector HRIA
  • Join THIRST’s Board of Trustees


    – Exposé of sexual exploitation of tea workers & stakeholder responses
    – Beautician training reduces tea estate girls’ risk of trafficking

    – Sri Lankan farmers struggle to afford sufficient fertilizer 
    – Bangladeshi small tea garden owners thriving
    – Kenyan tea farmers recieve grant to boost business and women’s economic empowerment

    – New employment models for Sri Lankan tea workers proposed
    – Indian Supreme Court orders payment of dues to Assam tea workers – digital payments delayed
    – Bangladesh tea workers seek arrears after exended strikes last year won partial wage rise
    Call for increase in Sri Lankan tea plantation wages

    – India National Budget silent on tea, but government boosting business in Assam and issuing landrights and housing in W Bengal
    – Kenya Tea Growers Association challenges ten-fold employee tax increase while parliament reviews Tea Policy

    – Kenyan tea farmers urged to embrace more sustainable farming models as climate  and consumer demands change
    – Rwandan tea farmers improve yeilds by planting on hillsides, but Nilgiri hills tea farmers urged to adopt soil erosion prevention methods 

    – Aldi Nord publishes HRIA of Indian tea supply chain
    – Waitrose and Marks & Spencer publish HRIA Executive Summary of Kenyan tea supply chain
    – Hindustan Unilever training small tea growers & bought leaf factories in good agricultural and manufacturing practices
    – ADB supports Sri Lankan Tea Small Holders Refinance Loan scheme



THIRST’s response to the exposé of sexual exploitation in Kenyan tea plantations

THIRST has published a blog entitled ‘So why did all those policies, procedures and trainings fail to protect women in Kenyan tea‘.  It calls on tea companies and stakeholders to examine their gender policies and ensure that they are fit for purpose and rooted in the cultural norms of the people they are supposed to protect. 

THIRST is also working with Women Working Worldwide and freelance consultant, Michael Pennant-Jones to pool our combined expertise on the global tea sector and gender empowerment in global supply chains.  We are developing a thought piece on the Structural and Systemic Drivers of Sexual Exploitation in the tea sector to be published at the end of May 2023. This will serve as a unifying framework to enable the development of a coherent sector-level strategy for the many and disparate players in this field. While the paper will only be a part of the picture and many others will have valuable insight to contribute,  it is a starting point for a wider, expertly informed discussion about the sector-wide changes that are needed to reduce women’s vulnerability to sexual exploitation in the tea sector. Please contact THIRST for more information.

THIRST has been interviewed on the topic for a Tea Biz podcast, due to be released on Friday 10th March.

New on THIRST’s Knowledge Hub

Have you recently published – or soon plan to publish – a report or article on any aspect of the human rights or environment of tea workers and/or farmers? Let us know and we will add it to the THIRST Knowledge Hub and promote it in the THIRST News Update. Can’t find a report you are looking for on the Knowledge Hub? Let us know and we will try to find it for you and add it to the Hub.

  • Sex for Work: The True Cost of Our Tea – BBC Africa Eye documentary
  • Twinings Human Rights Update 2023.
  • Aldi Nord Human Rights Impact of tea in India – Assam, Darjeeling, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu
  • Fairtrade certified tea in the hired labour sector in India and Sri Lanka: Impact study and baseline data collection

Visit Knowledge Hub


Update on the Human Rights Impact Assessment of the tea sector – Analysis:

Global Tea Producer Survey deadline extended to 31st March.

We are now well into Phase 2 of the HRIA – the Analysis phase, exploring the root causes of the ‘human rights gap’ identified in Phase 1, with THIRST’s literature review Human Righs in the Tea Sector – The Big Picture. (In Phase 3 we will be inviting tea stakeholders to join round table discussions to explore what Actions can be taken to address the social problems in tea, informed by the Pahse 2 Analysis).

As part of this, tea producers from a wide range of countries have taken part in the Global Tea  Producers Survey giving us valuable insights into the realities that they face in balancing the needs of their customers and their workforce.

However, we are keen to hear from many more of you, and to allow time for everyone to complete the whole questionnaire so we are extending the deadline for completion of the survey to the 31st March 2023.

Let us know how we can make it easier for you to respond to the survey eg sending it in a different format, speaking with us on the phone instead etc


We have also begun our Key Stakeholder Interviews and Focus Group Discussions. These will be running through the whole of April. If you have not yet received your invitation to one of these and feel you have something valuable to contribute, please contact us.

Contact THIRST

Join THIRST’s Board of Trustees – deadline extended

THIRST’s Trustees are still seeking the right candidates to join them on the Board. We stress that the role is voluntary (ie unpaid) and we are looking for people with the following knowledge and expertise:

  • Human rights for agricultural workers and/or farmers in the African continent – preferably in the context of the tea industry in one or more African country. This could be knowledge and expertise gained through working in the tea (or other agricultural) industry, or through an academic, government, trade union or NGO role with relevant connections.
  • Fundraising/business development, who can build the fundraising capacity of the Board as a whole and who brings with them a network of potential funders or funding channels.

The deadline for applications has been extended to March 31st. More information about these voluntary roles and how to apply can be found on THIRST’s website. Please do contact us if you have any questions about the role.

News from tea stakeholders

NGOs, trade unions, companies and other tea stakeholders are invited to share news of their projects, policies and interventions to improve the lives and environment of tea workers and farmers in THIRST’s monthly News Update. Send a pargraph (max. 150 words) plus a link for further information by the 25th of each month for inclusion in the next month’s News Update.



Disclaimer: The following updates consist of a summary of articles from the media in the month(s) preceding publication – they are shared in the spirit of learning and do not necessarily reflect the views of THIRST. Please contact THIRST if you spot any factual errors or would like to raise any other issues connected with the Update. THIRST will not be held liable for any such inaccuracies in the  articles summarised here or the external links provided.


Exposé on sexual exploitation on Kenyan tea plantations and stakeholder responses

The news last month was understandably dominated by the BBC Africa Eye/Panorama exposé of sexual exploitation of women working on Kenyan tea plantations by their recruiters and managers. The Kenyan government has called for an investigation, trade unions have responded with a list of demands, including that Unilever and Finalys stop using labour contractors and a coalition of Kenyan NGOs has demanded justice and reparations for the survivors. Finlays has committed to a sector-wide investigation and other stakeholders have also commented on the need for urgent, meaningful and systemic change in the sector to prevent such exploitation from happening.

Government policies and interventions

In other news, the Indian tea industry expressed disappointment that the 2023-24 national budget does not mention the tea sector, nor its various calls for legislative changes to protect it. Meanwhile, the West Bengal government has started issuing land rights papers to some tea workers and building houses for others. While welcome to some, tea planters have raised serious concerns about the legal and commercial implications of the land rights issue, and tea workers have complained that the housing allocation excludes temporary workers who live on the estate.

Tea workers’ wages in arrears; New employment model proposed 

India’s Supreme Court has ordered the payment of approximately Rs 650 crores to nearly 30,000 Assam tea workers, which includes payment into workers’ Provident Fund (pension). Meanwhile, Bangladeshi tea workers who held an extensive strike for higher pay last year, are still to recieve their wage arrears.

Sri Lankan tea estate owners are pushing for new business models to be implemented in which “pickers and their families are given individual sections of plantation to harvest themselves – with them setting their own hours” and “to use a small-holder based model linked to tea prices and plucked leaf”. These changes, the companies claim, would increase their wages and help them to manage housework and childcare.

Mixed fortunes for smallholder tea farmers

Smallholder tea farmers in Sri Lanka are struggling to afford fertilizer since the scrapping of a subsidy scheme, which could damage crops. But smallholders in Bangladesh appear to be flourishing, and Kenyan tea farmers have recieved a sizeable grant from the KTDA Foundation & Unilever to scale up business as part of a “holistic social and women economic empowerment program.

Climate change and adaptation

Tea farmers in Rwanda are seeing better crops since moving from wetlands to hillsides, while tea farmers in South India’s Nilgiri hills are being advised to adopt new planting methods to prevent soil erosion. Kenyan tea smallholders are being urged to embrace “a more sustainable model of farming aligned with long-term environmental and social goals alongside financial needs” in response to changing consumer demand and climate impacts.

Corporate news: companies publish human rights reports: support smallholder tea farmers

German supermarket, Aldi Nord, has published its Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) of its Indian tea supply chain. Last year, UK supermarkets, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, published the Executive Summary of their HRIA of their Kenyan tea supply chain.

Hindustan Unilever is training small tea growers & bought leaf factories in India on good agricultural and manufacturing practices and ADB is supporting the  Sri Lankan Tea Small Holders Refinance Loan scheme.
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Exposé of sexual exploitation of tea workers & stakeholder responses

“More than 70 women on Kenyan tea farms, owned for years by two British companies, told the BBC they had been sexually abused by their supervisors. Secret filming showed local bosses, on plantations owned by Unilever and James Finlay & Co, pressuring an undercover reporter for sex. Three managers have now been suspended.” (BBC, Feb 20th)

Responses from Tea companies

  • Finlays issued a statement saying: “There is no place for behaviour of this kind anywhere in our business. We firmly believe that everyone should feel safe when they come to work at Finlays. That is why we have robust policies and procedures in place – such as comprehensive guidance to staff, detailed and continuous training programmes, an anonymous third-party whistle blowing hotline, as well as dedicated welfare and medical staff available on site – to prevent abuse of any kind.” They have taken suspended the individuals featured in the programme from all Finlays sites, reported the allegations to the police, and launched an investigation”firstly, examining the specific cases of exploitation raised within the programme; secondly, where we can improve our approach to preventing and addressing any sexual violence, abuse, or harassment across the James Finlay Kenya sites”. They have also reminded workers of existing safeguarding measures. (Finlays, Feb 20th)
  • The Ethical Tea Partnership says it “will continue to work with any organisation in the tea sector that is committed to eliminating such abuses from their operations and supply chains and we believe that our members must take responsibility for their supply chain. Many stakeholders have a role to play to address systemic deep-rooted issues that exist in tea – including companies, governments, unions, civil society, and ETP.” (ETP, Feb 20th)
  • Unilever originally owned the other plantations featured in the programme. Its tea division was sold in July 2022 to CVC Capital Partners, as a company originally named ekaterra – now named Lipton Teas & Infusions. THIRST is not aware of a response from any of these companies beyond statements within the programme itself. 

Responses from Government

  • Kenya’s “National Assembly Deputy Speaker Gladys Shollei has directed the Labour Committee to probe sexual abuse reports in Kericho’s tea plantations and file a report in two weeks. The statement on the plight of the female workers in the tea farms was requested by Kericho Woman Representative Beatrice Kemei… Dagoretti North MP Beatrice Elachi said it’s unfortunate that such incidents are still being recorded and no action has been taken. “Today is a very difficult day for me as a woman, leader and citizen of Kenya. Today I’ve been reminded that slavery still exists in this nation; I cannot explain how a man has violated women in tea plantations for 30 years and nothing has been done” … Nandi Woman Rep Cynthia Muge noted that sexual abuse of women in work places work favors is an endemic issue which needs to be addressed. (Capital FM, Feb 21st)

Response from Trade union 

  • “The Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union (KPAWU) General Secretary Francis Atwoli… submitted a raft of irreducible minimums aimed at the two [featured] companies in a bid to protect workers moving forward. For starters, he demanded that James Finlay and Unilever immediately ceases outsourcing labour through the use of contractors… [he] wants all employees who are presently on contract to be offered direct employment by the two corporates. “Outsourcing of labour affects the rights and welfare of workers considering they work at the mercy of contracted companies and not the parent company,” he stated. He further added that James Finlay and Unilever must not just apologize and issue “procedural crisis communication” on behalf of their employees implicated in the crimes, but also ensure they go out of their way to compensate the affected workers for emotional and health damages.” (Citizen Digital, Feb 22nd)

Responses from NGOs

  • “A coalition of [Kenyan] lobbies campaigning against sexual violence in the country… demanded that the government should compel the entities to offer the survivors and those at risk of the ordeals “immediate independent medical, psychosocial and legal aid services”. They also demand that “the institutions implicated immediately provide compensation for all women and girls who have been violated in the tea plantations.”” (The Star, Feb 25th)
  • Transform Trade (formerly Traidcraft Exchange) is quoted as saying that the findings of the investigation were “unfortunately unsurprising” given previous exposés of sexual abuse in Kenyan farms. Fiona Gooch, policy advisor, went on to say: “The power imbalance between those offering jobs and the many hundreds of workers who want jobs means that internationally workers in labour-intensive sectors experience unfair and abusive treatment, ranging from harassment to poverty pay, sub-standard food, to loan arrangements resulting in types of forced labour.” (The Grocer, Feb 23rd)
  • THIRST‘s blog asks ‘Why did all those policies, procedures and trainings fail to protect women in kenyan tea?’  and suggests that the language of gender policies must be meaningful to the women and men working in the plantations and must be informed by them. (THIRST, Feb 23rd)

Response from Multi-stakeholder initiative

  • The Ethical Trading Initiative calls on companies to “move beyond ethical audits and towards a human rights-based approach; actively tackle root causes of human rights abuse, including combating behaviours, attitudes and power structures which inhibit or hamper respect for human rights; [take]
    Remedial actions [that] align with pillar three of the UN Guiding Principles; [place] Meaningful engagement with workers and their representatives…at centre of business action; create increased opportunities and real decision-making power for women and vulnerable groups; recognise and consider the implications of their purchasing practices; [and] responsibly engage, remediate and mitigate human rights abuse found in their supply chains, in line with UNGPs.” It also states that “All countries should ratify and implement C190 through national legal and policy frameworks.” (ETI, Feb 23rd)

Responses from Certification bodies

  • Rainforest Alliance‘s response to the allegations begins: “The Rainforest Alliance is deeply concerned by a recent BBC documentary, which highlights documented cases of sexual abuse in the Kenya tea sector and indicates widespread gender-based violence on certified plantations in Kericho County.  Our first concern is for the protection and wellbeing of the victims, and we believe the incidents highlighted in the documentary are not isolated cases, but rather evidence of a wider, systemic problem.  We call for and commit to sector-wide engagement to tackle the rampant sexual abuse in the global tea sector.” (Rainforest Alliance, Feb 20th) NB They subsequently made an updated statement, including the point that: “Setting up robust Assess-and-Address and grievance mechanisms requires significant investment in resources, and this is where tea sector stakeholders, including brands and retail partners, should play their part. (Rainforest Alliance March 2nd)
  • Fairtrade has described BBC Panorama’s Sex for Work expose as a “#MeToo moment for tea.”… Although the allegations raised in the Panorama documentary do not refer to Fairtrade-certified estates, the allegations alone were enough to trigger Fairtrade’s protection and safeguarding policy, including meeting with stakeholders to determine best practice guidelines in adherence to local and applicable laws. Fairtrade said it: “unequivocally condemns all sexual harassment, abuse, and violence”, adding that “no one should have to find work in exchange for sex and workers should never be subjected to sexual abuse and violence in their workplace”. (Grocery Gazette, Feb 22nd)

Responses from Retailers

  • Sainsbury’s has promised ‘robust action’ to safeguard workers in its supply chain after sexual abuse was uncovered at a tea farm owned by one of its suppliers in Kenya. “These upsetting and horrific allegations have no place in our supply chain and we’re committed to ensuring all workers receive fair treatment and have a safe place to work,” a Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said. “We are working with our supplier and other retailers and will take robust action to safeguard workers in our tea supply chain.”
  • Starbucks has canceled its tea purchase from James Finlay Kenya. (Kahawatungu, 24th Feb)


Beautician training reduces tea estate girls’ risk of trafficking

In West Bengal, one of the top five states in India regarding human trafficking, most of the trafficking victims are women and children from tea plantations… So the promise of a way out of poverty in a big city away from home is something that many can’t resist, making them easy prey for traffickers. This is a vicious circle, Sukla Debnath, a social worker in the Alipurduar district, is trying to break…”I have been using a portion of my income from working as a beautician to give free beautician training to girls from the tea estates. I felt that if these girls can make a decent living working as beauticians, they will not have to go with a stranger to an unknown city in search of work,” she said…Over the years…she has given beautician training to more than five thousand girls from tea gardens. (India Times, Feb 21st)


Sri Lankan farmers struggle to afford sufficient fertilizer 

Tea smallholders are finding it hard to purchase fertiliser since the subsidy scheme has been scrapped as a result of which at least 40 per cent of them are not applying adequate nutrition to tea plants that could eventually lead to a further crop drop this year as well. (Sunday Time, Feb 19th)

Bangladeshi small tea garden owners thriving

President of Bangladesh Small Tea Garden Owners’ Association Amirul Haque Khokan said boosting tea cultivation is bringing lucrative profits to farmers alongside creating huge jobs improving the living standard of many people in five northern districts. (Prothomalo, Feb 5th)

Kenyan tea farmers recieve grant to boost business and women’s economic empowerment

Some 480 tea farmers… have received a grant of Shs.1.5 million from the KTDA Foundation in partnership with Unilever company to scale up business in the area…, part of the holistic social and women economic Empowerment Program aimed at improving the economic welfare of at least one million small scale tea farmers, families, and tea pickers….“Currently, some of our major buyers of tea are facing a financial crisis and farmers will receive low bonuses at the end of this year, hence the need to diversify into other business activities to supplement the income from the tea” [KTDA] (Kenya News, Feb 25th)


New employment models for Sri Lankan tea workers proposed

Sri Lankan tea plantation owners want to “move to a model in which pickers and their families are given individual sections of plantation to harvest themselves – with them setting their own hours – rather than working in large traditional work teams for fixed daily hours.” They say it “has been proven to increase yields where it has been adopted, but… the pickers are resisting. Roshan Rajadurai argues “If we don’t do it I think with the rising cost, and the static prices that we get in the world markets for our product, I don’t think we can be sustainable in the long term,” he warns. (BBC, Feb 2nd)  See also, Feb 6th)

“Sri Lanka’s large tea farms say workers who have opted to use a small-holder based model linked to tea prices and plucked leaf are earning more money which is automatically linked to global prices and inflation… When the price per kilogram is linked to the auction price, workers get an inflation or dollar linked wage as well as output. Workers have started to move to the inflation and production linked model on their own.  One attraction is there is no supervisor (kankani) and they can work independently managing housework and children. The estate continues to provide childcare.” (Economy Next, Feb 2nd)

Indian Supreme Court orders payment of dues to Assam tea workers – digital payments delayed

The Supreme Court of India has ordered the payment of approximately Rs 650 crores to 28,556 workers of 25 tea gardens in the state of Assam, including those owned by the state-run Assam Tea Company Limited (ATCL)  The report stated that Rs 414.7 crores were payable as various dues and Rs 230.7 crores were payable to the Provident Fund department. (North East Now, Feb 8th) 

Despite digital hype, tea workers continue to be paid in cash… the digital payment of workers’ wages requires sufficient bank branches and the installation of an adequate number of ATMs in the areas where tea gardens are located. (East Mojo, Feb 24th)

Bangladesh tea workers seek arrears after exended strikes last year won partial wage rise

Foremost of the factors that determine the economic fate of tea workers in Bangladesh is the agreement that the Bangladesh Tea Association (BTA) and Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union (BCSU) sign every two years…”The agreement between the owners and workers is signed late and we get the increased pay in arrears from the first day of the following agreement period,” says [a tea worker] “We want our full arrears at the rate of Tk 50 per day for the full agreement period.”…”If the owners do not sign and execute the agreement starting from January 1, 2021 and do not pay our arrears in full, we will go on strike again,” said [a] tealeaf picker … if the minimum wage board is regularised in the tea industry, it must grant pragmatic consideration to the living costs of tea workers and other factors that section 141 of the labour laws mentions. (The Daily Star, Jan 29th)

Call for increase in Sri Lankan tea plantation wages

Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) will request Labour Minister Manusha Nanayakkara to summon the Wages Board for an increase in tea and rubber plantation wages to reflect increased cost of living. (Economy Next, Feb 9th)


India National Budget silent on tea, but government boosting business in Assam and issuing landrights and housing in W Bengal

India’s 2023-24 National Budget: According to the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA)’s principal advisor S. Mukherjee, the tea sector was probably the only industrial segment which was not spared even a word as regards to any industry stimulation package or subsidy… the long-standing demand of the planters… that the Union government should impose a very high important duty on tea from Nepal in order to protect the planters in the region…  [was not addressed]. Tea industry observer Nandini Goswami, also pointed out the ultimate effect of the ailing nature of the Indian tea sector on the plantation workers, especially those associated with the smaller tea gardens. “There had been a long-standing demand for giving the small planters the status of agricultural farmers and the status of agricultural workers for the workers employed in smaller tea gardens. Unfortunately, this issue also found no mention in the Budget speech,  (Business Standard, Feb 2nd)

The national government in India is rolling out a program that’s structured in ways that will help to realize the potential of Assam… ADB’s latest report on Assam said that “the current strategy of selling CTC tea leads to low-value output in a highly competitive, commodity-led market. Investments in de-bottlenecking infrastructure and leveraging the small tea growers (STGs) of Assam can develop the entry into the high value global and Indian leaf tea market”… The ADB programs aim to incentivize STGs to move toward organic cultivation could make the Single Estate or Single Origin Tea even more exclusive and high value. (World Tea News, Feb 22nd)

West Bengal’s 2023-24 Budget focuses on farmers, youth and women’s welfare, and numerous social welfare schemes of the state government & claims to be “an employment-oriented budget” (NDTV, Feb 15th) Meanwhile, the state starts work on health centres & crèches in tea gardens of BUT on wages “The trade unions and tea planters have to reach a consensus through talks [then] we will immediately notify the rate. The state doesn’t have any other role” (Telegraph India, Feb 15th)

W Bengal estate owners and workers raise concerns over government landrights and housing distribution

…land right documents (Pattas) will be handed over to tea garden workers residing in gardens under the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) area soon. (Millenium Post, Feb 9th) The Bengal government has asked the tea industry to submit its views within 14 days on the  administration’s decision to provide land rights to workers after the planters raised “severe apprehensions” about the move. (Telegraph India, Feb 24th) As construction of houses for permanent workers under Chaa Sundari Scheme progresses, there is all-round ambiguity on what kind of legal ownership the beneficiaries will get…  a temporary tea worker… said, “The government notification clearly says Chaa Sundari homes are only for permanent workers. There is no mention of legal ownership. What will happen to our current homes? Where will the rest of our family, who are not permanent workers, live?”… “The question of land ownership in tea plantations is fairly complex as nobody has ownership documents. As the land is on lease from the government, the rights that people have are limited,” Tripti Poddar, a Delhi-based advocate who has worked with NGOs in Bengal, told 101Reporters. (101 Reporters, Jan11th)

Kenya Tea Growers Association challenges ten-fold employee tax increase while parliament reviews Tea Policy

The Parliamentary Caucus on Coffee and Tea, has vowed to go back and re-track on a Tea Policy, that was abandoned in 2014 and make sure they implement it as they seek to streamline the sector to increase returns for farmers. On taxation, the Chairperson said that they have agreed to collectively lobby the Executive and the Presidency and come up with a better taxing regime that is going to accommodate more local value addition and more players in the industry, to create more jobs and to improve the competitiveness of the tea that is going to be available in the market. (Capital FM, Feb 2nd) Meanwhile, employees are set to feel the pinch of increased pension deductions after the Court of Appeal allowed the government to implement a new law that raised the contribution ten-fold… The case challenging the law was filed by Kenya Tea Growers Association and 14 other employer and employee associations. (Standard Media, Feb 6th


Kenyan tea farmers urged to embrace more sustainable farming models as climate and consumer demands change

Consumer demands are now shifting, with buyers seeking sustainable sources of supply – as well as high-quality products that deliver a premium taste… This is in addition to the challenge presented by climate change which has resulted in shortened rainfall seasons and erratic weather patterns. These factors have increased the urgency with which smallholder farmers need access to training and technical services across all facets of tea production, processing, extension, and sales. To remain future-proof, farmers need to adapt their cultivation methods …They must embrace a more sustainable model of farming aligned with long-term environmental and social goals alongside financial needs.” Sudi Matara, KTDA Foundation (Business Daily Africa, Feb 15th).

For example, Kenyan Tea farmers face bleak future following biting drought being experienced in the country. Depressed short rains have significantly impacted production. The situation has also been complicated further by rising cost of labour and lack of dollars in some of the tea- selling countries such as Egypt. Incidents of fire such as the one experienced in Gatundu south, Kiambu which consumed over 600 tea bushes is ading to the farmers’ pain. (Citizens Kenya, Feb 24th)

The Kenya Tea Development Agency Power Company (KTPC) has announced its majority shareholding of a new company set to roll out low-cost solar energy to smallholder tea factories. (The Standard, Feb 3rd)

Rwandan tea farmers improve yeilds by planting on hillsides, but Nilgiri hills tea farmers urged to adopt soil erosion prevention methods

Rwandan farmers whose tea plantations were awash in wetlands now have hope and confidence in having enormous harvests after the Green Gicumbi project supported them to grow tea on the hillside. At least 50 hectares on the hillside were planted with more than 600, 000 tea seedlings. The project implemented by Rwanda Green Fund (FONERWA) was financed by Green Climate Fund (GCF) to build climate resilience communities… tea on the hillside is resilient to floods, reduces erosion and is known for its preferred quality. “Farmers will be supported to set up more nurseries so that more farmers can get tea seedlings to be planted on the hillside,” Emile Nsengumuremyi, an expert in soil erosion control and climate resilient agriculture in the Green Gicumbi project said. (All Africa, Jan 30th).

In India, around 40 tonnes of soil per hectare is washed away every year in slope areas of the Nilgiris if conservation measures are not applied….CSWCRTI has advised farmers to use ‘riser protection’ in bench terrace farming and ‘contour planting method’ in tea cultivation… Planting tea, grass, or perennial beans on the ‘riser slopes will help anchor the soil and curtail erosion. (Times of India, Feb 22nd)


Monsoon Tea gives Thai tea farmers financial incentive to become protectors of the forest

Chiang Mai-based Monsoon Tea is grown and sold from the forest, aiming to preserve nature and make sure that farmers in the mountains of Thailand could make a sustainable income without having to cut down nature. CEO Kenneth Rimdahl says “Convincing the farmers to save the forests is not very difficult, per Rimdahl. “It is very important for us that these farmers make good money by protecting the forests… Otherwise, it’s not sustainable in the long run. We need to make sure that you can make more money by producing forest-friendly tea than you would by producing corn or pineapples in large monoculture plantations. We never preach to farmers about the dangers of climate change and biodiversity loss, but instead provide a financial incentive to become protectors of the forest.” Rimdahl said that they continue to expand because there’s growing environmental concern with consumers around the world, and there’s also a growing interest in specialty teas.  (World Tea News, Feb 8th)

ADB supports Sri Lankan Tea Small Holders Refinance Loan scheme

In a new effort which aims to assist the national tea and coffee industry in Sri Lanka, the Colombo-based SME Development Bank Sri Lanka… entered into a joint initiative with the ADB… The goal is to provide a line of credit (LoC) to selected small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Sri Lanka. Among those SMEs within this lending program will be firms which are led by women and/or are first-time borrowers. The project also includes a Tea Small Holders Refinance Loan scheme, which is designed to encourage new planting and replanting activities, considered to be a timely need to enhance the sustainability of the tea industry. (World Tea News, Feb 22nd)

Aldi Nord publishes HRIA of Indian tea supply chain

Aldi Nord publishes Ergon’s report of its Human Rights Impact Assessment of tea from India – Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The study found a range of impacts closely mirroring those documented in THIRST’s 2022 literature review, Human Rights in the Tea Sector – The Big Picture. Most rightsholders in the Aldi report say the central issue is low pay, which Ergon ascribes to “sustained by low sale prices and unprofitability of tea estates as well as wage-setting mechanisms that are resistant to fundamental change [and] Supply chain pressures which shift risk onto producers further incentivise cost reduction at production level.” The report emphasises the “widespread and systemic”  nature of human rights issues in the tea sector and calls for “international brands and retailers like ALDI who recognise the importance of India to the future of the global tea industry to consider how they can share in the costs towards, and increase their stake in, a  sustainable future for the industry.” 

Waitrose and Marks & Spencer publish HRIA Executive Summary of Kenyan tea supply chain

Waitrose and Marks & Spencer published just the Executive Summary of the Human Rights Impact Assessment of their Kenyan tea supply chain at the end of last year. This also identified the most extemely negative impact being on the “Right to an Adequate Standard of Living” for both smallholders and their hired labour, as well a the “Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment”. On the other hand, impacts on the Right to Just and Favourable Conditions of Work, Freedom from Forced Labour and some aspects of non-discrimination were deemed to have been positive or extremely positive. They have also published an Action Plan based on the recommendations in the HRIA.

Hindustan Unilever training small tea growers & bought leaf factories in good agricultural and manufacturing practices

Anticipating a rise in the demand for quality tea and in light of the unprecedented growth in the number of small tea growers in India – now procuding more than half of India’s tea – Hindustan Unilever with sustainability consultants is training small tea growers and bought leaf factories in good agricultural and manufacturing practices, combining on-field, face-to-face intervention with mobile phone apps. Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty, president of the small planters’ body, CISTA, said initiatives like this “will enhance quality and sustainability in income”. (Times of India, Feb 9th)

Twinings publishes Human Rights Progress Report*

Some highlights of Twinings’ 2023 Human Rights Progress Report include the fact that in 2021, it “came together with 35 other companies, investors and business associations to send a joint statement encouraging the UK government to introduce a Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD) law”. It also describes how “if we identify any complex issues, [through audits] we respond with an in-depth approach, tailored to the specific needs of the site… for example… efforts to build management capacity or working collaboratively with other stakeholders to find solutions.” It also demonstrates how the company goes beyond audit; “through our Twinings Community Needs Assessments… a detailed, holistic participatory framework, developed in consultation with expert organisations including UNICEF, WaterAid, Solidaridad and GAIN.” These assessments are at the centre of Twinings’ “Sourced with Care programme and provide the foundation for a joint, tailored action plan that we put together with producers to help address human rights issues and community needs.” (Twinings, March 2023)

*This item was added to the News Update on 16th March

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