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, and for over five years we were involved in a project with fellow tea companies, the Ethical Tea Partnership, NGOs and other organisations called Malawi Tea 2020.
Despite the progress made, there’s much work to be done, and upsetting reports from women tea workers on one of the tea farms we buy from in Malawi have highlighted that urgent action is needed to ensure the safety of women on estates and support gender equality.
We’ve committed to continue to work with our suppliers to support them as they put remediation plans in place with the help of an external human rights consultancy. We’re staying close to this work to ensure these plans are being fully implemented and delivering real change for their workers and receive regular reports on developments.
The wide-ranging plan has been progressing well, especially considering the extra logistical challenges posed by the pandemic. Encouraging greater openness and opportunities for workers to safely raise concerns has been an important part of this. Grievances raised by workers are all being worked through with many successful instances of closure and individual remediation for those involved.
There’s a strong focus on improving the working culture through training sessions and capacity building to improve sensitisation to the issues involved and there have also been significant changes to the management structures on the estates. Work is now taking place to think about how to maintain the improvements made and introduce a programme of ongoing monitoring.
We also want to address the underlying factors which can lead to human rights risks on estates. In September 2021 we launched a project with the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) and Lujeri Tea Estate called Ulalo (or ‘Bridge’) – the first piece of a wide-ranging programme to address the deep-rooted challenges of gender inequality in the tea supply chain in Malawi.
The three-year project, in which we’re investing just under a quarter of a million pounds, aims to establish over 500 community savings groups. These groups, known as Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), are a tried and tested way to support financial empowerment and stability and reduce the risks of exploitation – especially for women. As well as improving financial literacy, decision-making and economic resilience it’s anticipated that Ulalo will help participants to diversify their sources of income and increase their food security.
To date 107 VSLA groups have been set up, each consisting of between 15 – 25 people, and 20 lead workers are currently being trained to help develop and implement the VSLAs.
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 some cases, 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.