Malawi: Women in the tea industry speak out on abuse and sexual harassment by male supervisors; includes company comments
‘Sexual abuse of female workers rampant in estates in Malawi’ 18 January 2022
Malawian women working in tea and macadamia estates in Mulanje and Thyolo districts have spoken about the sexual abuse and exploitation they suffer at the hands of their male supervisors in the estates which are owned by two United Kingdom based conglomerates. An investigation report published by Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) has revealed the sexual abuse and exploitation workers experience at the estates in Malawi. In Malawi, Eastern Produce Malawi (EPM) Ltd owns tea and macadamia nuts estates such as Limbuli, Chisambo, Phwazi, Ruo, Thornwood, Eldarado, Likanga, Minimini, Lauderdale, Esperanza, Glenorchy, Kasembereka, Mianga, Gotha, Makwasa, Nasonia, Kumadzi, and Masawa.
EPM is partly owned by Camellia Group Limited, a UK-based company which makes over 300 million pounds (over K337 billion) per year from its operations in various sectors. Another UK-based company, PGI Group, owns Lujeri Tea Estates Ltd and Thyolo Nuts Company Ltd. Lujeri Tea Estates Ltd alone owns Bloomfield Tea Estate, Nsuwadzi Tea Estate, Sayama Tea Estate, Khongoloni Tea Estate, and Nchima Macadamia Nuts Estate. It is at these estates where sexual abuse has been reported with some women revealing that they were fired after refusing sexual advances from their supervisors. According to the PIJ report, a woman who was working as a Data Entry Clerk for Phwazi Tea Estate but but was based at Limbuli Tea Estate, was fired after she refused to sleep with her supervisor. The supervisor told the female worker that there was also another manager, apart from himself, looking to sexually abuse her and she could not be protected if she refused.
…However, EPM’s communication consultant Warthogs rejected claims that EPM Ltd has ignored evidence provided by the women workers sexually harassed by their male bosses Warthogs’ owner and thought leader Dumisani Ngulube told PIJ that EPM has an Operational-level Grievance Mechanism (“OGM”), compliant with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, for addressing sexual harassment claims under the direction of a Malawian Female Independent Senior lawyer. He added that the company’s policy on sexual harassment is well documented, is accessible to all their employees and is frequently reviewed. Said Ngulube: “The company has invested a lot of resources in ensuring that its workforce is aware of the OGM and any reported allegations or complaints of sexual harassment that are addressed according to the OGM.”… In February last year, Eastern Produce Malawi Limited agreed to pay K2.4 billion to the women and also agreed to implement several projects aimed at empowering of women and girls in and around EPM’s operations. In 2020, 31 women also sued PGI Group Ltd, the UK-based parent company of Malawian tea company Lujeri. The women accuse the company of failure to protect them from rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, coercion and discrimination by male workers. They alleged that many contracted HIV and others became pregnant due to the sexual abuse.