Sunday, June 12, 2011

The real price of a cup of tea

Yesterday's Irish Times published a story I'd been working on with journalist Jody Clarke for a couple of months. I'd discovered that Lyons tea (the biggest selling tea in Ireland), has a plantation in Kenya where women allege that in order to secure lighter work duties or better housing conditions for their families they are forced to have sex with supervisors.

I researched the story, interviewed the principals and then journalist Jody Clarke who is based in Kenya then came on board. He travelled to the estate and interviewed women who had worked there. They told him about how the supervisors demand sex, bribes and harass the older women. Lyons Tea who are owned by the giant Unilever food group say there is no problem with sexual harassment at the estate and that they disagree with a report compiled by Dutch organisation SOMO which alleges that women on the estate suffer poor working conditions and "rampant" sexual harassment.

Working conditions for women at Kenya's tea plantations are generally poor, but the real problem with this case is that the Lyons Tea Kericho estate is Rainforest Alliance certified. Rainforest Alliance say that they say their audits of working conditions on the estate have found no problems. Generally as consumers when we buy a Fair Trade product we assume that workers are being looked after and are not suffering the kind of problems which the Kenyan women allege. What I found writing this piece is that what we might consider to be an ethically produced product may not be the case in reality. If you're interested in this issue you can read the full piece at the link below.


  1. Unbelievable Suzanne and so desperately sad. It really is important that these conditions are highlighted in the hope that these desperate conditions will improve for those poor women. Well done on delivering another prominent piece of investigative journalism, it must be so difficult to examine something so disturbing.

  2. Well done on the overall expose but this specific blog posting conflates Rainforest Alliance with Fair trade Suzanne. That's not really fair on Fair Trade.

  3. The Rainforest Alliance and Unilever take these allegations very seriously. Sexual harassment of any kind is not and will never be tolerated on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. In response to these allegations, a research audit was conducted. Learn more at the following link:

  4. I sorry, but whenever there are conditions that amount to tied service. Or conditions where the pay levels are so low as to prevent surplus being created. There are always abuses for they grow and flourish in such a culture.
    Mind you we cannot get upon out high horses when places like Letterfrack and the Laundries existed in the second half of the 20th century.