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13 Oct 2021

Kenya: Tea workers sue James Finlay over working conditions and injuries; Incl. company comments

In 2019, it was reported that Hugh James Solicitors, representing seven tea-pickers who had worked on James Finlay tea estates in Kenya, had filed seven cases at the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court over the company's failure to provide safe working conditions.

The claimants argued they worked long hours with no lunch or breaks, and carried baskets carrying tea leaves that weighed up to 20 kilos, which left workers with severe injuries.

The claimants demanded Sh2 million each as compensation, and for James Finlay to settle the legal bills.

When a sheriff ordered James Finlay to give the legal team access to the farms in Kenya, James Finlay challenged this in the Kenyan courts, arguing that an order from Scotland could not be implemented unless it was endorsed by a Kenyan court.

The tea pickers appealed against the decision. However, in May 2021, the decision to deny access to the James Finlay estates was upheld by the Court of Appeal, arguing that the team needed to seek assistance from Kenyan authorities and courts before visiting the tea estates.

In October 2021, it was reported that the labour court had dismissed a second case by the tea pickers, seeking to compel James Finlay Kenya to release their medical records, to be used as evidence in a UK court. The judge argued that there had already been a similar case in 2019, which was before the Court of Appeal.

It was later reported in October 2021 that a new lawsuit had been filed in the Scottish Court of Session by 1,300 workers, demanding compensation for injuries they claimed were caused by their working conditions. In December 2021, ahead of judge Lord Weir's decision on granting an order for the group action to proceed, Finlays argued that the action did not meet the requirements of Scotland's rules on group litigation proceedings, and that the claim should be dealt with by the courts in Kenya. It also claimed workers' fears of intimidation and pressure by Finlays at the local level were 'unfounded'.

In August 2022, it was alleged that James Finlay had lost an appeal against the case being allowed to go ahead and had taken action through the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nairobi, which issued an interim anti-suit injuction, preventing the workers from processing ahead with the case in the Scottish courts.

Please find company comments below.