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James Finlay in new plan to safeguard its workers

Rift Valley
 James Finlay owns tea estates in Bomet and Kericho Counties. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

James Finlay Kenya has revealed plans to protect workers’ welfare following alleged sexual abuse.

Finlay suffered a blow after a non-governmental body suspended some of its product licences early this month.

Rainforest Alliance announced the suspension, beginning May 9, over what it termed failure by the company to conform to social and management criteria.

James Finlay owns tea estates in Bomet and Kericho Counties.

Rainforest Alliance launched investigations following the release of an investigative documentary on BBC that highlighted widespread sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the tea sector.

The report revealed more than 70 women in Finlay and Ekaterra tea, formerly Unilever Tea Kenya, had been abused sexually. Finlays has since revealed there is no place for misconduct in their business.

“There is no place for misconduct of any kind, anywhere in our business. Since receiving the Rainforest Alliance Investigation Audit report in March, we have delivered a comprehensive corrective action plan in line with (Rainforest Alliance) guidelines which is well progressed,” read a statement by the company.

The company now calls for the lifting of the suspension.

“Since the allegations of misconduct were brought to our attention in January, we have been delivering a comprehensive action plan to protect the welfare of all at James Finlay Kenya in both the short and long term,” continued the statement.

In the statement, the company said it terminated the contracts of the two individuals named in the documentary and reported them to the police, as well as provide extensive additional welfare support and counselling to all employees at James Finlay Kenya.

It also revealed it has commissioned an independent investigation to fully understand what happened and where to improve on.

“We have also commissioned two independent investigations to fully understand what happened and where we can improve, and we are committed to swiftly acting on the recommendations of these investigations in full,” read the statement.

Rainforest Alliance Country Director Kenya and Tanzania Michael Orangi said the companies have to meet the standards on the management of plantation, traceability issues, shared responsibilities, human rights, gender-based violence, working conditions, and safety.

The suspension, he said, means the companies have room to correct the non-conformities flagged, adding that workers must be trained on their safety and rights.

“These organisations are suspended from our programme until they put corrective measures to address the non-conformities that were identified,” he said.

He said the companies have quite a number of subcontracted labour providers, but it was not clear whether they knew this was a risk to the certification programme. Most subcontracted workers, he said, were not aware of any practical method of raising their complaints.

He said the initial suspension takes three months, adding that it depends on individual company speed to put in place corrective measures on issues raised in the investigative report.

He noted that should the companies fail to address the issues raised their licences will be revoked.

Orangi said they would send auditors to the plantation to see whether indeed the corrective action plan set is real and not just on paper.

“There are those issues that can be closed, but there are issues that probably they will not be able to close but will have shown they are addressing them. Once this is found, we will be able to lift the suspension. If things get worse, the certificate is cancelled,” he said.

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