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Press Release

7 Dec 2021

New transparency tracker to hold tea companies accountable for plantation worker abuse

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Twinings, Yorkshire Tea and M&S were among those which disclosed their supply chain lists.

  • There is a widespread lack of transparency in the tea industry in spite of serious rights abuses on plantations. Of 65 companies approached to disclose their supplier lists, only 29 engaged with the request and just 17 disclosed their list of sourcing estates and factories. Teapigs, Sainsburys, Lidl, and Jing Tea were among the brands which did not disclose their supplier list. 
  • The world’s first searchable tea plantation database was launched today by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. The Tea Transparency Tracker links more than 1,300 tea plantations around the world to the brands and retailers who source from them.
  • The Tea Transparency Tracker hosts 2,574 of Unilever’s supplier facilities. However, the £3.8 billion sale of its tea arm, ekaterra, to CVC Capital Partners leaves Unilever’s transparency and living wage commitments hanging in the balance.

By disclosing their supply chains, some of the world’s largest and most profitable tea companies have taken a first step towards ending a culture of secrecy. This paves the way for them to be held accountable for the persistent labour abuses on plantations. Major players in the tea industry responded to calls for the disclosure of their supply chain information, which was made public by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre today (7 December 2021) in its Tea Transparency Tracker. 

The newly launched Tea Transparency Tracker is the first tool of its kind for the industry, building upon lessons and tools on supply chain transparency in the fashion industry. It directly links companies to the tea plantations they source from, allowing workers and consumers alike to know where the tea goes. However, many companies are still choosing to hide supply chain lists, effectively allowing dangerous and exploitative working conditions to remain concealed.

Scant supply chain information means workers who pick the tea we drink remain trapped in a system rife with historic labour abuses with no access to remedy. Facing poverty wages, sexual violence, dangerous working conditions and forced labour – which is endemic throughout the industry – workers are kept in the dark about their role within large and lucrative global supply chains for companies with policies to protect their rights.

The ease with which companies such as Twinings, Betty & Taylors of Harrogate (Yorkshire Tea), M&S and Tesco disclosed their supply chain lists proves there is no excuse for all companies not to do the same.

Thulsi Narayanasamy, Head of Labour Rights, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Supply chain transparency is not only urgently needed, it’s also immediately possible in the tea sector. For the millions of workers on tea plantations frequently working under horrifyingly exploitative conditions, transparency allows workers to directly seek remedy from tea companies when their rights are being abused. Some companies handed over their supply chain information within a week while others actively choose to hide this information. Tea companies can end the inequality of power and the tolerance of misery and abuse which plagues the industry in a stroke; it’s just a matter of them having the will to make the decision to publish their supplier lists.

“The risks of failing to address rights abuses are rapidly rising and the tea industry is not prepared. Mandatory human rights due diligence legislation is on the way, alongside an increasing rise in import bans and ESG-focused investing, spelling the end of companies shirking direct responsibility for the workers who pick their tea. Companies which refuse to operate transparently will soon find themselves legally liable for human rights abuses taking place in their supply chains.

“There are also other dangers for companies who refuse to act now. Unilever’s multi-billion sale of their tea arm faced hurdles due to investor concerns about the grave human rights risks tea plantation workers face. Investors must back up their ESG pledges by actively insisting on supply chain transparency and effective due diligence in this murky sector. As legal cases continue to mount against tea estates, it shouldn’t be down to journalists or lawyers to expose instances of abuse, the industry needs to stop hiding.”


Note to editors:

  • The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.
  • View the new Tea Transparency Tracker here.
  • Download our new report Trouble Brewing which looks at the human rights policies of tea companies across the globe. 
  • WikiRate is a technical partner for this project, hosting the company sourcing disclosures and the associated tea supply chain relationships. WikiRate is a not-for-profit organisation based in Germany, and a collaborative open data platform where you can contribute and view data on companies’ environmental, social, and governance performance, supply chain transparency disclosures, and their progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]