We’re doing some work in Malawi with the farms we buy tea from and the wider industry.
It’s a country which faces a lot of challenges, so since 2015, we’ve been involved in a project with fellow tea companies, the Ethical Tea Partnership, NGOs and other organisations called Malawi Tea 2020. Despite the progress made, we recently shared upsetting news on some cases involving women on tea farms we buy from in the country. In this update, we’d like to let you know what happened next.
In situations like this, companies will often immediately stop trading with a supplier to try and limit reputational damage to their brands. We understand why, but it’s hard to overstate the impact of suddenly cutting off some of the world’s poorest workers and smallholders from their source of income. So our first position is to work with a supplier, understand what’s gone wrong and support them to develop plans to put things right. If that’s not something they can do, we’d stop buying from them.
In Malawi, our suppliers have brought in external experts and agencies, like human rights consultants to support the development of high-quality remediation plans. We’re working closely with our suppliers to ensure these plans are being fully implemented and deliver real change for their workers.
The first step is to complete further investigation to uncover any additional areas of concern. This work is well underway, with timely resolutions offered to those affected. We’re getting regular updates to ensure this work stays on track. It’s already yielding results, with significant changes to management structures at our suppliers’ sites. Workers are encouraged to raise issues safe in the knowledge that they’ll be properly addressed. That’s already having a positive impact, and it’s giving us more of an insight into the underlying factors which can lead to human rights risks. For example, one of the main risks for exploitation is through financial vulnerability, which can in turn lead to abuse.
That’s something we can help to address, so as a company, we’re now investing in a programme of new projects with the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) to try and tackle these root causes of abuse.
The first in Malawi will be a community saving scheme, called Village Savings & Loan Associations, which support tea workers to save money and access loans. It’s a tried and tested way to support financial empowerment and stability and reduce the risks of exploitation, especially for women, and it’s been hugely effective elsewhere. We’re now aiming, in partnership with the ETP and Lujeri, to establish over 500 of these self-managed schemes across the Lujeri workforce , over the next three years.
The reports from women tea workers in Malawi have also shown that we need to do more to recognise the signs of potential abuses across our supply chain. Since 2014, we’ve only sourced from suppliers with independent, third-party certification for our core teas and coffees. But in Malawi it’s now clear that certification isn’t enough.
So we’ve developed a broader approach to human rights based on the UN Guiding Principles, which we’re now rolling out across our whole supply chain. You can read more about that here.
To keep updated on next steps or to find out more about how we source our tea and coffee, please check back here.