We’ve recently been made aware of an upsetting claim brought by tea workers in Malawi relating to sexual harassment and gender-based violence. We’re grateful that this has been brought to our attention – everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, and we want to be sure that holds true across our supply chain. We’re one of a number of companies who buy from a tea producer named Eastern Produce Malawi Ltd (part of the Camellia Group) and we want to let you know what’s being done about it.
The short summary is that we’re encouraged by the swift action that is being taken by Camellia to strengthen their approach to safeguarding and protecting workers, including a series of initiatives to ensure the safety of women and support empowerment and gender equality.
To add some context, Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, with 70% of the population living below the World Bank’s poverty line. The Malawian tea industry is one of the biggest employers, with more than 60,000 people’s livelihoods dependent on it.
Since 2015, we’ve been involved in a project with fellow tea companies, NGOs and other organisations to try to change things for the better, called Malawi 2020. The long-term aim is to make Malawi’s tea industry competitive and profitable, with workers earning a living wage and smallholders earning a living income. So far, the project has helped the living wage gap in Malawi to close by 33%. You can read more about it here.
Closing the living wage gap has benefits beyond income alone. There’s a direct correlation between poverty and the vulnerability of women to exploitation and gender-based violence, and tackling the former is a crucial step in tackling the latter. At Taylors, we’ve extended our commitment to help close the living wage gap across the whole of our tea and coffee supply chains, find out more here.
But the living wage gap is just one factor. Malawi is a country in which women face unequal access to education, economic opportunity and power, and can be vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. Women make up about 30% of Malawi’s tea industry, primarily in tea picking and factory roles, yet most are supervised by men – and a lack of effective processes to protect women’s rights can increase vulnerability to exploitation and present barriers in progressing to more senior roles.
Malawi 2020 also set out to support female empowerment, to help address these barriers to progress. It has led to the first ever sector-wide Gender Equality, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Policy, the establishment of Women’s Welfare and Gender Committees, and the hiring of a Gender Co-ordinator to advance gender awareness.
But Malawi still faces significant challenges. Life remains hard for much of its population and achieving the scale of change needed will take decades, not years. We can’t improve things unless we’re involved, and that’s why news of something going wrong in our supply chain doesn’t immediately result in us walking away from a producer, which can be harmful for the people reliant on our trade for their livelihoods.
A key foundation of sustainable trade is long term relationships – and our contracts guarantee that we’ll buy for several years in advance, at a level above the Fairtrade minimum price, plus an additional premium for quality. This gives a tea producer, and us, the confidence to invest in projects there (in 2020 we invested £1.4million in social and environmental projects to improve standards across our supply chain). It also means workers and smallholders don’t suddenly lose the source of their income.
When issues such as this arise, 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 are able to achieve, we’d ultimately stop buying from them.
In Malawi, we’ve been in close contact with Camellia and they’re engaging fully and openly with this process. They have firmly stated that sexual harassment and gender-based violence will not be tolerated. They’ve committed to establishing a wide range of projects including gender equality scholarships, sexual harassment education programmes, introducing women’s safeguarding supervisors across all estates and a specialist female leadership training programme to support the career progression of women into more senior positions.
We’re also in ongoing discussions with our industry partners to understand what wider work is needed across estates and communities in response to this – and how to build on the work already done in the Malawi 2020 project. To keep updated on next steps or to find out more about how we source our tea and coffee, please check back here.