BBC Panorama’s ‘Sex for Work: The True Cost of Our Tea’ aired on Monday 20 February. ETI is disturbed to see clear evidence that sexual exploitation continues in Kenya’s tea sector, more than ten years on from reports by SOMO and the Kenyan Human Rights Commission.
The content of this documentary is deeply concerning, but human rights experts have been raising these issues for some time, not just in Kenya or tea, but in all estate crops. Cases of gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) have been prevalent in estate agriculture for too long, and it remains clear much more needs to be done to mitigate these risks, protect workers and remediate the harm done. Finlays and supermarkets are actively engaging with ETI, as well as companies and experts in the tea sector, to ensure that lessons are learned, and practical action is put in place.
What does ‘more’ look like?
Companies must move beyond ethical audits and towards a human rights-based approach.
Audits consistently fail to identify and typically underreport the prevalence of these issues in global supply chains worldwide. Codes of conduct and policies on sexual harassment cannot be used as standalone solutions. In high-risk contexts, the question is not ‘if’, but ‘where’ and ‘how’ human rights abuse is occurring in your supply chain. Enhanced human rights due diligence, which must involve meaningful engagement with workers and their representatives and gender-sensitive independent grievance mechanisms, is necessary to uncover and respond to these severe risks.
Companies should actively tackle root causes of human rights abuse, including combating behaviours, attitudes and power structures which inhibit or hamper respect for human rights.
Root cause analyses can help companies understand and mitigate persistent human rights risks, including discriminatory abuses like GBVH, and sector-specific drivers of vulnerability. Companies should engage suppliers, managers, and supervisors on prejudicial behaviours and attitudes and precarious employment practices, to cultivate a lasting, equitable and safe working environment for all workers. This should involve local civil society organsiations who are knowledgeable of the context and be guided by relevant international agreements. This process should be embedded in high-risk supply chains, and will require time, resources, and continued reinforcement.
Remedial actions by companies must align with pillar three of the UN Guiding Principles.
Companies must establish and maintain a truly independent, gender-sensitive and accessible operational grievance mechanism (OGM) that aligns with the UNGPs effectiveness criteria. Workers must have a safe and effective avenue to report abuse, in their own language and with confidence that there will be action taken. Workers and their representatives, including trade unions, should be included in the design and implementation of OGMs. Where allegations of human rights abuse arise, companies must utilise state and non-state-based mechanisms for redress. This must include engaging with relevant authorities to formally report alleged abuse with due consideration for the safety of workers including psychological support and access to healthcare.
Meaningful engagement with workers and their representatives should be at centre of business action.
Employers and companies along the value chain should engage with workers, trade unions and other affected stakeholders, particularly women and vulnerable groups, in their human rights due diligence, plans and actions. Worker engagement should play a key role in framing the problem and its solutions. Strong, inclusive, locally informed and gender-sensitive human rights due diligence can ensure companies are well equipped to unearth and mitigate salient risks in any context.
Companies must create increased opportunities and real decision-making power for women and vulnerable groups.
By balancing the proportion of men and women in leadership and supervisory positions, in companies and unions, business practices and policies can benefit from more inclusive and representational decision-making internally and through effective collective bargaining. Formal and active engagement with unions, gender and human rights experts and vulnerable groups (such as women, informal, migrant or Dalit workers) can also ensure companies are better informed on salient risks when taking decisions.
Companies should recognise and consider the implications of their purchasing practices.
Business competition creates extreme pressures on global supply chains, the impacts of which are often pushed down tiers and hardest felt by workers. This pressure has the capacity to exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, particularly for those engaged in precarious work, or working in high-risk and conflict affected areas. Companies should account for these dynamics when agreeing and establishing purchasing practices with suppliers to mitigates adverse impacts on workers and vulnerable groups, particularly women.
Companies must responsibly engage, remediate and mitigate human rights abuse found in their supply chains, in line with UNGPs.
When cases of human rights abuses such as GBVH are uncovered, it is unacceptable for buyers to distance themselves from these issues by ceasing procurement and or disengaging with suppliers. As stated by the UNGPs, a company’s responsibility to respect human rights requires it ‘seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts linked to their operations, products or services... even if they have not contributed to those impacts.’ A process to remediate adverse human rights impacts and a gender-sensitive independent grievance mechanism where workers can report them, must also be in place.
Ratification of ILO convention 190 is imperative.
All countries should ratify and implement C190 through national legal and policy frameworks. Companies should utilise C190’s clear framework to prevent and address violence and harassment in the workplace to inform their business practices.
Finlays and its customers within the ETI membership have been actively engaging with us and broader actors in Kenya since allegations of these abuses came to light. The BBC’s evidence of these abuses in Kenya should be a necessary wake up call to stakeholders engaged in estate agriculture worldwide. We welcome the continued support and active engagement of ETI members across our tripartite in addressing these systemic issues as a collective going forward.