THIRST News Update – April 2023

THIRST News Update – April 2023

Highlights: Climate change threatens longterm viability of tea; activist supporting Kenya sexual exploitation vicitms dies; women tea workers suffer greater health hazards; tea producer threatens to pull supermarket products over price dispute.

Image: Women workers in tea garden trucks heading for tealeaf picking. Photo: Philip Gain. The Daily Star



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On International Women’s Day, THIRST published a blog focusing on the strengths of women working in the tea sector – When women roar – the world listens… so keep roaring!

New on THIRST’s Knowledge Hub

  • Scaling up Responsible Digital Payments in the Rwandan Tea Sector: This new report by Ethical Tea Partnership and Better Than Cash Alliance on the use of digital payments in Rwandan tea factories finds that “scaling up responsible digital payments to farmers could result in a saving of $8 million over ten years – funds that could be reallocated to address climate change and other critical issues.”

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Update on the Human Rights Impact Assessment of the tea sector

Key stakeholder interviews and focus group discussions are underway for the Analysis phase of the HRIA, designed to ensure a rounded understanding of the possible drivers of the human rights gap identified in in the literature review published at the end of  the Assessment phase last year. 

Interviewees – some face-to-face, some online – include stakeholders from all sections of the tea industry and from a range of geographical regions, from tea pluckers and smallholder farmers to plantation managers and leaders of tea brands, including trade union leaders, agrarian economists, gender experts, legal experts, welfare officers, brokers, exporters, importers etc. Focus group discussions are scheduled for three key stakeholder groups in April; ETP members, retailers and NGOs. 

Please let us know if you would like to be interviewed or to join one of the focus group discussions:

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Tea News Summary

Disclaimer: The following updates consist of a summary of articles from the media – 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.

Climate change impacts and mitigation: On March 19, a massive landslide engulfed 23 line-rooms in Sri Lanka leaving sixty-seven families homeless and nine people injured. But climate impacts are also being felt further afield; the Indian Tea Association (ITA) says that climate change is causing lower yields and a rise in production costs, threatening the long-term viability of the tea industry.It advises the industry to adopt a multi-faceted approach, including sustainable farming practices and reduction in carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the World Bank is supporting Assam with a ten-year programme to reduce the vulnerability of people to climate-related disasters and improve integrated water resources management.

Update on Kericho sexual exploitation case: After the BBC Panoarama documentary alleging sexual exploitaton on Kericho tea esates, a team from the Kenyan government “held a closed-door engagement with county security officers” and “grilled bosses in one of the two accused farms” to glean further information on the case. Four managers who were exposed in the programme were suspended from their jobs and have since gone underground. Victims of sexual harassment are being urged to record statements to aid the investigation, but none have come forward, ostensibly due to fears of losing their jobs. On Friday, March 24, Godfrey Onyango, the chairman of the Justice and Environment Foundation who was representing the alleged victims was found dead at his home.

Tea producer stands up against pricing pressure: Sri Lanka’s Dilmah Tea is threatening to pull its popular products from supermarket shelves in Australia amid a bitter price dispute with Coles and Woolworths.

Women tea worker’s vulnerability: But it is not only in Kenya that women are vulnerable; a new survey found that legislation to prevent and redress incidents of sexual harassment of women in workplaces has not yet been implemented in Indian tea gardens. And women tea workers in Bangladesh are reported to be “deprived of sexual and reproductive health rights” due to a range of factors including “extreme poverty, lack of awareness and knowledge about government health services, ignorance about family planning, poor hygiene and sanitation, [and] indecent work conditions”.

Health hazards for tea workers: The human-animal conflicts in tea-growing regions regularly reported in these updates persist, with tea workers in South and North India sustaining injuries and one fatality from attacks by wild animals. While in Kenya the boss of James Finlay Kenya has argued that musculoskeletal injuries that workers claimed were caused by their working conditions, may have been caused by carrying water as children.

Government support amid irregularities: Last month saw a wide range of reports on government support for tea workers and farmers in Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Nepal. KTDA has issued grants to farmers to diversify their crops and gain entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy; the Sri Lankan Plantation Ministry and Youth Services Council aim to tackle labour shortages with youth training in tea maintainance and harvesting skills; and in India, the Assam state government announced increased subsidies for the production of orthodox and speciality teas, and waiver of past electricity dues of tea garden workers and the Bengal Labour Ministry claims that over 4000 houses have been constructed and potable drinking water provided to all tea gardens. But the National Trinamool Trade Union Congress has protested against irregularities in Provident Funds and Gratuity and the lack of development for tea garden workers by the Union government.

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Climate change threatens tea viability

Leading planters body Indian Tea Association (ITA) said climate change is threatening the industry globally which is resulting in lower yields and a rise in production costs. A spokesman of ITA said climate change is also threatening the long-term viability of the tea industry, which is also causing increasing pest infestations making pesticide residue management surfacing as a major challenge. To mitigate this, ITA said that the industry needs to adopt a multi-faceted to address the climate change issue by way of sustainable farming practices and reduction in carbon footprint. (The New Indian Express, March 25th).

The World Bank is supporting Assam with a ten-year programme to reduce the vulnerability of people to climate-related disasters and improve integrated water resources management. The Centre and the Assam government had formally requested US$500 million in financing from the Bank for a long-term program to help Assam confront its complex challenges. (East Mojo, March 25th)

Sri Lanka: On March 19, a massive landslide engulfed 23 line-rooms at the Kabaragala division of the Poonagala Estate, near Bandarawela, about 215 kilometres from Colombo. Sixty-seven families are now homeless, with three buildings completely buried during the night time incident and nine people injured who are now being treated in Diyatalawa hospital. (World Socialist Website, March 26th)

Women in tea

Kericho Sexual Exploitation Update

On Friday, March 24, Godfrey Onyango, the chairman of the Justice and Environment Foundation was found dead at his home in Lanet, Nakuru county. He was representing the current and former workers who – according to a BBC documentary – were sexually exploited at two multinational tea companies. (Tuko, March 25th) 

The [Kenyan] Parliamentary Committee on Labour wants victims of sexual harassment at Ekatera and James Finlay Kenya tea farms to come out and record statements to aid investigations into the alleged sexual harassment perpetrated on workers. [But the women are said to be reluctant to cooperate for fear of losing their jobs.] (Citizen TV Kenya, March 4th)

On Friday, March 3, the MPs in the National Assembly Committee on Labour travelled to Kericho County to investigate the allegations. According to Runyenjes MP Eric Muchangi, the committee chairperson, the team liaised with the county security officers for comprehensive information. “We held a closed-door engagement with county security officers who provided us with critical information,” Eric Muchangi stated. While in the county, the committee grilled bosses in one of the two accused farms for several hours, attempting to ascertain the gravity of the case.  The probe began after Kericho Women Representative Beatrice Kemei sought a statement from the Departmental Committee on Labour. (, March 4th)

A week after managers and supervisors at two United Kingdom tea manufacturers in Kericho were exposed for preying on female workers and job seekers, victims [were] yet to record statements with Kenyan police. After the exposé, Kenya announced it would probe the incident and bring the perpetrators to book. However, a week later, apart from the victims, four managers who were exposed are also yet to be summoned by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). They have since gone underground after being suspended by the multinationals. Many workers in the tea estates said they had not been interviewed by the Kenyan police over the incident. (Tuko, February 27th)

Sexual harassment legislation not being implemented

A survey by two Calcutta-based NGOs in the tea estates of Terai has revealed that legislation enacted 10 years back to prevent and redress incidents of sexual harassment of women in workplaces has not yet been implemented in tea gardens. Around 51 per cent of employees in this sector are women… It was surprising that the Act passed to redress exploitation in the workplace has not been introduced in any garden. Female workers that we spoke to are not even aware that such a law exists,” said Sirsha Gupta, the programme officer of Sanhita, referring to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal) Act, 2013. (The Telegraph Online, March 15th)

Tea workers deprived of sexual and reproductive rights

Bangladesh: Women leaf-pickers… work very long hours, walk many miles to travel to and from their workplaces, and are on their feet all day. Pregnant women keep working till the end of their pregnancy, and experience various health risks… cancers and fistula… miscarriage, stillbirth and maternal death… continue to be huge challenges in current conditions. Compared to other parts of the country, tea workers and their family members, especially women, face greater health risks, mainly due to malnutrition and other factors. Fifty-one percent of around 138,000 tea workers in 160 tea gardens in Sylhet and Chattogram divisions are women, as are 95 percent of the tea leaf pickers, who engage in the hardest labour in the tea industry… Women and girls in the tea gardens are deprived of sexual and reproductive health rights to a great extent due extreme poverty, lack of awareness and knowledge about government health services, ignorance about family planning, poor hygiene and sanitation, indecent work conditions, violation of labour laws and rules by employers and withholding of the benefits they are entitled to, inadequate access to health workers, lack of education, and various other factors, including social and cultural practices in the tea gardens. (The Daily Star, March 8th)

Tea industry news

Producer stands up against price pressure

Sri Lanka‘s Dilmah Tea is threatening to pull its popular products from supermarket shelves in Australia amid a bitter price dispute with Coles and Woolworths. Chief executive Dilhan Fernando said major supermarkets are ‘demanding discounts’ and refusing to pay a premium for their hand-crafted, single-origin Ceylon tea bags. If the trend continues and an agreement can’t be reached, the Sri Lankan company may refuse to supply Australian grocery chains. (Daily Mail Online, March 26th)

Tom Franks is the new Ethical Tea Partnership Chair 

Members of the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) have appointed Tom Franks as the new Chair of the Board of Directors. From 2015 to 2022, Tom was Group CEO of Camellia Plc, the world’s largest private tea producer. During his time at Camellia, Tom led the organisation in its adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a transformational step for the sector. He acted as a co-Chair of the Global Tea Coalition, a producer-packer CEO forum where leaders from the sector discuss living wages and incomes, equality, and environmental sustainability. “The tea sector faces incredible challenges today and difficult times ahead,” said Franks. “I believe that the Ethical Tea Partnership and its members can catalyse long-term, systemic change, to benefit everybody who works in tea. I can’t wait to get started and to work with my fellow Directors and ETP staff to address the sector’s key issues within economics, equality, and the environment.” (Ethical Tea Partnership, March 23rd)

Animal-human conflict and injury claims continue

India: A tea estate worker suffered minor injuries in a panther attack at Naalumukku area in the Western Ghats on Saturday. Sources in the police said the panther attacked tea estate worker Jessy, 55, even as she was plucking tea leaves at Naalumukku area beyond Maanjolai on Saturday morning. She suffered bleeding scratches caused by the claws of the carnivore.  The workers on the spot rushed Ms. Jessy to the hospital Maanjolai tea estate. (The Hindu, March 4th)

India…a wild elephant entered into a tea estate in Assam’s Nagaon district, killing one tea worker and seriously injuring at least four others… The conflict between humans and animals is becoming more frequent in some areas of Assam. A man was recently killed at Cotton Mill in Balipara’s Chariduar Village in Sonitpur after being crushed to death by a wild elephant. Significantly, a network of local communities known as the Elephant Conservation Network (ECN) has been established in numerous conflict areas of the state in an effort to lessen the rampantly escalating human-elephant conflict in Assam. (The Sentinel Assam, March 4th)

James Finlay Kenya Ltd (JFK) is fighting a multi-million pound damages claim at the Court of Session. The tea pickers say they suffered musculoskeletal injuries because of working conditions. But the firm’s managing director said they may have hurt their backs while carrying water as children. JFK also argues the claims should be dealt with in Kenya, and not Scotland. (BBC, March 14th)

Tea workers, farmers recieving support amid irregularities

Over 200 tea farmers in Gatundu South [are] receiving grants worth 855,000 shillings from the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) Foundation to enable them diversify in their farming for increased earnings. Head of KTDA Foundation Sudi Matara said besides the grants, the farmers will also receive requisite entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy. (KBC Channel 1, March 25th)

The [Sri Lankan] Plantation Ministry and the National Youth Services Council (NYSC) are working together to attract more youth to be trained to work on the estates as part of a plan to provide an additional income for the youth and to help the estates to find the necessary labour required. In this respect, the authorities are aiming to establish youth teams within the respective districts that can be pooled as required for work on the plantations. Planation Ministry officials said that training will be provided for plucking with machines or manually, weeding, regular maintenance of the fields and adding fertiliser. (Sunday Times, March 26th)

As Assam celebrated 200 years of the first tea plantation being set up in the state, the state government on Thursday announced increased production subsidies for orthodox and speciality teas, and waiver of past electricity dues of tea garden workers… It also said that the tea garden and Adivasi community will be recognised as a separate sub-category within the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and that the government will focus on improving infrastructure in workers’ colonies. [Finance Minister, Ajanta] Neog said the Assam Tea Industries Special Incentives Scheme (ATISIS), 2020, will be further strengthened to incentivise the production of orthodox tea and speciality tea in Assam. (East Mojo, March 16th)

Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress (INTTUC) had staged protests in various places in Bengal protesting over issues like irregularities in Provident Funds and Gratuity along with no development for tea garden workers by the Union government despite having announced a Rs 1000 crore fund for tea workers development in the Union Budget of 2022. [However, State Labour minister Moloy Ghatak said] “More than 4000 houses have already been constructed under the Chaa Sundari project, the Public Health Engineering department has been providing potable drinking water to all tea gardens. The majority of the tea garden workers are women and they are getting benefits under the Lakshmir Bhandar scheme. Moreover, a 35kg ration is being given to the workers completely free of cost,”  (Millennium Post, March 13th)

Nepal: Workers at government owned tea gardens are finally being added to the contribution based social security fund. The process started after the central office of National Tea and Coffee Development Board issued a circular to branch offices recently. Bishnu Prasad Bhattrai, executive director of the board, notified the branch offices to enrol the employees as per Section 10 of the Act which states that workers will receive drug treatment and health protection, maternity protection, accident insurance, disability allowance, old age protection plan, dependent family protection plan, unemployment assistance and other social security plans specified by the fund. (Katmandu Post, February 27th)

According to a circular issued by the [Bangladesh] Department of Labour, tea garden workers who have arrears will be given Tk11,000 per person as a lump sum, says State Minister for Labour and Employment Begum Monnujan Sufian…The management authority will disburse this amount in three installments, out of which the first installment must be paid before 7 March. The time of payment of the remaining two installments will be decided by discussion between the tea workers and the owner. (The Business Standard, March 2nd)


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