This collection of resources is provided here purely in a spirit of sharing views and experience and does not imply endorsement by THIRST. Descriptions are taken from the documents themselves, or from the relevant organisation’s website. Please contact THIRST if you know of other relevant reports or initiatives that should be included in this collection.
The tea industry is a booming global business. With 3.5 million tons of tea produced each year – including 1.6 million tons for export – tea harvesting is an important source of income for millions of workers across the globe. India and Kenya are two of the world’s top four tea-producing nations, earning hundreds of millions of pounds in exports each year. But in spite of the massive revenues tea sales generate, workers who pick and pack the leaves face horrendous conditions and earn far below a living wage. This report is a contribution to War on Want’s ongoing campaign for corporate accountability and Unite the Union’s campaign for the fair treatment of all workers employed by businesses in supermarkets’ supply chains. The report exposes the poverty wages, poor working conditions and desperate insecurity of workers in Kenya and India who produce the tea sold in British supermarkets. Shockingly, these conditions have not improved since War on Want’s groundbreaking report into the tea sector in Sri Lanka almost 40 years ago.
This research study is based on two Multinational Corporations (MNCs) – Unilever Tea and James Finlays – and their operations in Kericho. Generally the study aimed to assess the working conditions and terms of service for workers in the low cadre of employment at the tea estates. The study also aimed to investigate the CSR initiatives of the 2 MNCs.
For this study one hundred tea workers were interviewed on a total of eight tea plantation companies, all supplying tea to Unilever. Seven of these plantations are located in India and the remaining plantation concerns Unilever‟s own tea plantation in Kenya. It was found that working conditions on tea estates that supply Unilever are problematic despite having been certified by the sustainability
standard system RA. This in turn raises concerns about the effectiveness and credibility of this standard.
Working conditions on Unilever‟s own tea plantations in Kericho, Kenya were… problematic. Workers reported sexual harassment and ethnic and gender discrimination, all constituting violations of ILO, RA standards and Unilever‟s own code of business principles (CBP). In addition, the poor housing conditions for casuals and the casual status of many de facto permanent workers are RA standard violations. Violations of RA standards on discrimination should lead to Unilever Tea Kenya (UTK) losing its RA certification as well.
NB Unilever has since acknowledged some of these problems and taken steps to address them.
The Initiative for Sustainable Landscapes (ISLA) Kenya (a partnership set up by IDH in 2015 in response to deforestation and forest degradation in the South West Mau Forest block in western Kenya…
In recent decades, more than 25% of the forest has either been cut down or degraded, putting tea production, other sectors and community livelihoods at risk. This is caused by growing populations, unsustainable livestock grazing, charcoal burning and timber extraction from the forest. In response, IDH created a strong coalition of the Nakuru, Kericho and Bomet national government agencies; tea, energy, telecommunications and timber companies; and civil society made up of NGOs and community groups, implementing partners and knowledge institutions to work together across the landscape. Together, we developed an integrated action plan for holistic landscape management in the South West Mau Forest across four key themes: forest conservation, water conservation, sustainable energy with livelihoods as an important cross-cutting theme.
This [case study is part of] … a comparative analysis of initiatives to achieve progress towards gender equity in agricultural value chains… co-ordinated by Banana Link and Women Working Worldwide [to] inform further work to ensure the respect of the rights of women workers and producers. There are a number of examples of good practice from Finlays ranging from the appointment of a Gender Empowerment Manager to the development of a Gender Equality and Diversity (GED) Policy, to proactive recruitment procedures and specific training and support for women to be qualified for ‘male’ jobs. Underpinning all their work on gender is their Gender Equality and Diversity Policy.
In this report, SOMO is presenting for the first time ever a more detailed and comparative analysis on social, economic and ecological conditions in the tea sector in 6 of the most important tea-producing countries: India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Kenya and Malawi. The research is based on an extensive field study of civil society organisations in these countries, thus providing a unique perspective on this sector. The report also presents an overview of trade, production and stakeholders in international tea supply chains, and makes recommendations to various stakeholders for improving conditions, particularly for plantation workers and tea smallholders the most vulnerable in the tea industry.
The study found that working conditions for pickers are often poor, with low wages, low job and income security, discrimination along ethnic and gender lines, lack of protective gear and inadequate basic facilities such as housing and sometimes even drinking water and food. At the same time there is no possibility for tea plantation workers to improve working conditions because trade unions are ineffective or absent and/or are not representing them because most of them are temporary workers. While tea production by smallholders is growing worldwide, their situation is often problematic because the prices they are paid for fresh tea leaves tend to be below the cost of production, among other factors. The sector’s environmental footprint is considerable, with reduced biodiversity as the result of habitat conversion, high energy consumption (mainly using logged timber) and a high application of pesticides in some countries.
Kenya is the third largest tea producing country in the world. About 10% of the global tea production comes from Kenya. For Kenya itself, this represents approximately 25% of its total agricultural export income. Tea production in Kenya is predominantly in the ownership of smallholders. Around 550.000 smallholders produce 60% of the total tea production of the country. Many societal costs occur during production, such as use of scarce water and forced adult and child labour. This study shows that the majority of the external costs of conventional tea cultivation exists of social costs (79%), of which 29% are due to underpayment of hired and family workers.
The case study profiles Malawi Tea 2020,2 an action-oriented multi-stakeholder coalition of Malawian tea producers, large international tea buyers, certification organisations, NGOs and donors. The initiative has brought together a critical mass of stakeholders in the tea value
chain, which together have the power and drive to achieve a competitive and profitable Malawian tea industry where workers earn a living wage and smallholders earn a living income. A key finding of the case study is that good practice depends not only on local employers of the workforce, but also the sourcing practices of global tea brands and retailers. This case study was written to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on how these systemic issues across sectors and geographies can be resolved.
- See also Sustainability Issues in the Tea Sector – SOMO 2008 above
Reports by civil society organisations… have highlighted the issue of low wages and excessive working hours in the supply chains of a range of commodities and manufactured items, including tea. They argue that corporate compliance programmes and product certification schemes have achieved only limited reach to the root causes of supply chain problems, including low wages, and many have called for a Living Wage for workers… Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), a not-for-profit member organization of tea companies committed to improving the lives of tea workers and their environment, initiated a project in 2010 to increase understanding of wages in the tea sector, and to use this as a basis for constructive dialogue in the future.
The study looked at India (Assam), Indonesia and Malawi.
“an ambitious, action-oriented coalition of Malawian tea producers, trade unions, the largest international tea buyers, relevant certification standards, NGOs and donors. Our goal is to achieve a competitive, profitable tea industry that can provide its workers with living wages, living incomes, and improved nutrition by 2020.”
The Wood Foundation Africa (TWFA), in conjunction with its funding partners, is now considered the leading venture philanthropist in the tea industry in East Africa. In Rwanda TWFA is helping to achieve systemic and sustainable change for the tea industry through its Imbarutso project, and now works in partnership with 17,000 smallholder tea farmers.
A Rapid Assessment to investigate the worst forms of child labour (WFCL) in commercial agriculture, specifically tea plantations, was conducted by six researchers representing the Tanzania Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union (TPAWU). The assessment was conducted in two districts of Rungwe and Lushoto in Mbeya and Tanga Regions respectively and covered both medium scale tea farms and large estates. The intention of this study was to obtain mostly qualitative information on the worst forms of child labour on tea plantations, particularly in these two districts. The specific objectives for undertaking this study were to find out the causes of the worst forms of child labour in tea commercial agriculture, to assess the working conditions, and to examine the characteristics of the worst forms of child labour in terms of age, sex and number (magnitude and extent).