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Community protests Lipton Tea sale to Sri Lankan firm

A section of the Kipsigis clans in Kericho County has vowed not to honour the sale of Lipton Tea estates to Browns Investment PLC.

Borowo sub-clan leader Richard Langat said the land that hosts the company belongs to the clan but they were not involved in the sale of Lipton Tea company.

The clan has demanded to know the criteria used in the sale of the firm and why there was no public participation.

"We as the community cannot honour the decision taken by Lipton Tea to sell the firm to a new investor without proper consultation with the community, and now we are consulting on the way forward," Langat said.

He said the community demands 100 per cent ownership shares since they suffered historical land injustices and forceful eviction from their ancestral land.

"We want 100 per cent of ownership shares and not 15 per cent as proposed by the new investor," Langat said.

He said the sale was not subjected to public participation as earlier agreed.

"There was no public participation on 15 per cent shares to the local community, and that is why we are deliberating on the way forward," Langat said.

The Borowo sub-clan leader maintained that the deal between Lipton Tea and Browns Investment Plc is part of the historical injustices perpetrated by multinational tea firms against native landowners.

But in a statement, Lipton said it had set aside 15 per cent of the stake in the Kenyan operation to the local community.

The firm has 11 plantations and eight leaf processing factories in Kericho, Bomet and Limuru.

"The government of Kenya has supported the companies in identifying opportunities for local communities to benefit from the partnership and future growth of the industry,” read the statement.

"Shares totalling 15 per cent of the main Kenya operating company will be offered to the communities of Kericho and Bomet, where the estates are situated, at a substantial discount to create accessible communal equity and mutually aligned economic participation.” 

CVC Capital Partners, which owns Lipton Teas and Infusions, acquired the tea estates from Unilever’s tea division in 2021.

There have been concerns about human rights abuses, including claims of poor working conditions and sexual harassment.

Lipton said it has taken measures to address the issues, and the agreement with Browns will require it to continue with the safe practices.

"Developed together with producers across East Africa, Lipton Teas and Infusion have established a series of rigorous standards that span critical careers of tea quality, human rights, climate mitigations and nature protection.”

“A scorecard-based approach that recognises tangible progress by producers has been designed to encourage rapid and meaningful action,” read the joint statement.

“Browns has committed to meet these new standards worldwide by 2025. This includes initiatives on its existing Sri Lanka and Kenya estates, such as factory modernisation and crop diversification.”

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