Thirteen million workers who toil on tea plantations have suffered from endemic human rights abuses while the tea companies they pick for - some of the world’s largest and most profitable companies - have evaded responsibility for their supply chain workers and kept their supply chains hidden. Without supply chain transparency, workers don’t know where the tea they pick goes and remediation for abuses from forced labour to gender-based violence stop at the estate instead of going up the chain to where most of the value lies.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre addressed this gap by approaching 65 companies with a request for them to disclose the estates and bought-leaf factories that they source their tea from, to be held centrally in the first Tea Transparency Tracker. There are over 3100 estates and factories linked to 20 companies within the Tracker, and all disclosed supplier data is also available under a Creative Commons licence via WikiRate. We also conducted a survey of the same 65 companies, asking them about their human rights policies and standards - 25 responded. Details of company policies can be compared below.
By the Numbers
Tea workers have faced endemic rights abuses with conditions on plantations little changed from the exploitative colonial era when the industry was established. While certification companies play a significant role in enabling tea companies to label themselves as ethical, there are limited pathways toward corporate accountability for the poverty wages, gender-based violence, unsafe conditions and forced labour that have persisted.
20 of 65
disclosed supply chain data
to be housed on the Tea Transparency Tracker
of female tea pickers
in Kenya have been victims/witnesses of sexual or physical abuse at work
gender pay gap
between male and female tea workers
of a living wage
received by tea workers in Assam, India
Trouble brewing: The need for transparency in tea supply chains
Read the report based on our Tea Transparency Tracker research, which exposes the gaps in company policy, the impacts on workers and the changes needed to raise standards in the sector.
Resources from the labour movement and rights organisations
Unions in Malawi say NO to sexual harassment
In Malawi, IUF affiliates are calling for an end to gender-based violence and harassment on plantations, and launched an awareness campaign to promote confidential reporting of cases on tea plantations.
Global Business of Forced Labour examines tea & cocoa global supply chains
Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) found patterns of widespread labour abuse and exploitation across both ethically certified and non-certified tea and coffee plantations, concluding that certification does not eradicate forced labour.
Investigations find poor conditions, long hours and inadequate wages on APPL plantations
In Assam, India, local CSO’s filed a complaint to the World Bank Group’s Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), regarding poor living and working conditions on plantations operated by Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), majority owned by the Tata Group, and created with investment from the World Bank.
Legal cases and worker grievances
Women plantation workers in Malawi sue their employer alleging systemic sexual harassment & abuse
In March 2021, women working on plantations in Malawi supplying several major UK supermarkets filed a claim in the High Court in London against their employer Lujeri and its parent company PGI, for failing to protect women workers from sexual abuse and harassment.
Tea workers in Kenya file 'landmark' lawsuit against James Finlay over injuries allegedly caused by working conditions
In October 2021, 1,300 workers employed on James Finlay plantations in Kenya, supplying brands including Tesco, Sainsbury’s Starbucks, the Co-op, and Bettys and Taylors Group, filed a lawsuit in the Scottish Court of Session against the company.
Kericho tea plantation workers continue to demand adequate compensation from Unilever following violent attacks in 2007
In July 2020, 218 plantation workers in Kenya filed a complaint against Unilever, alleging the company had breached its commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by failing to provide adequate assistance and redress to victims of ethnic violence on Unilever’s Kericho tea plantation.
- UK appeals court dismisses lawsuit against Unilever over 2007 post-election attacks at tea plantation in Kenya