KENYA – Rainforest Alliance has suspended the licenses of two multinational tea companies in Kericho and Bomet counties, James Finlay (Kenya) Limited, and Ekaterra Tea Kenya PLC over allegations of sexual abuse.

The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organization working at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests to make responsible business the new normal.

Rainforest said it took the stern decision to suspend the certification of the companies after establishing they did not conform to the social and management criteria.

The independent investigation was launched by the Rainforest Alliance following an exposé by BBC Africa on how women in tea firms are sexually assaulted for work.

The BBC Eye documentary revealed widespread sexual abuse of women by senior managers in exchange for work opportunities at two tea estates owned by UK firms James Finlay & Company and Unilever — which has since sold its brands to CVC Capital Partners.

“For both tea estates, the audits confirmed the presence of non-conformities of the social and management criteria of the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard. Based on these results, we have decided to suspend the certifications of both certificate holders, per the Rainforest Alliance’s Certification and Auditing Rules V1.2. The certificate holders in question have been notified, as per the rules of our program,” stated the Alliance in a statement.

Rainforest added that the tea volumes that had been sold and shipped by the two companies before the suspension decision communicated on May 9, 2023, remain certified.

Multinational coffeehouse chain Starbucks also suspended the purchase of tea from James Finlay & Co, just after the exposé. Other big purchasers, supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s–which have been buying from the estates exposed in the coverage also condemned the actions and called for an immediate investigation of the distressing claims.

A week ago, James Finlay Kenya divested 85% of its business to a Sri Lanka-based investment vehicle of the Browns Group, Browns Investments PLC (BIL), enabling the company to make its first investment in the Kenyan tea industry.

James Finlay Kenya Tea Estate covers a total self-contained area of 10,300 hectares, including 5,200 hectares of tea fields over nine gardens and 1,200 hectares of preserved indigenous forest.

The purchase, to be completed in the next few months, will include all parts of James Finlay Kenya Ltd except the Saosa tea extraction facility that will remain under Finlays’ ownership.

In March, Ekaterra advertised over 1,000 job opportunities and warned against bribes and or sexual favors for job vacancies in its tea estates in Kapgwen, Kaptien and Kericho factory, and Kapkorech.

“Ekaterra Tea Kenya PLC seeks to recruit self-motivated individuals to join Kapgwen estate in KS Business Unit. Nobody should ask you for bribes or sexual favor for a job,” read the advert in part.

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