Sri Lanka: Fairtrade & Rainforest Alliance investigate after illegal wage deductions exposed at certified tea plantations; Incl. co. comments

Author: Lisa Fuller, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Published on: 27 March 2019

"EXCLUSIVE-Tea label giants vow probe after Sri Lanka labour abuse expose", 27 March 2019

Plantations in Sri Lanka that supply tea stamped slavery-free to top global companies are under investigation by ethical label groups after an expose found illegal wage deductions that have left some workers ill and unable to afford healthcare.

An investigation... found some workers at tea estates certified by Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade taking home as little as 26 Sri Lankan rupees (14 U.S. cents) a day after fees and deductions levied without consent. Wage slips... showed daily earnings widely being cut by more than three-quarters for debt repayments, salary advances and a laundry list of fees. Labourers... said their wages were also halved if they failed to meet a daily picking quota or arrived to work late...

Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade... said they were investigating... as deducting wages without workers' consent was not allowed by law and contravened their standards.

... Unilever - which owns... tea brands from PG Tips to Lipton - said it was "deeply concerned" and would investigate...

The expose raises questions about the effectiveness of ethical label schemes... and their ability to detect and combat labour abuses of workers at the bottom of global supply chains... Several labourers also complained that their estates only abided by the certifiers' ethical standards during audits but they were afraid of reprisals if they revealed this to auditors...

Tetley said it was in contact with Rainforest Alliance but had not sourced tea from the certified estates... in the past year, although seven of them feature on Tetley's supplier list... available online.

Twinings' Head of Social Impact... said the firm was fully committed to ethical sourcing, but that it has "limited leverage" because it does not own the tea estates...

Read the full post here

Related companies: Tetley (part of Tata Tea) Twinings (part of Associated British Foods) Unilever