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Reponse to SOMO report about our tea plantation in Kericho

Unilever has responded to SOMO’s report into our Kenyan tea plantations.

SOMO allegations

We are not aware of any current problems of inappropriate behaviour which SOMO allege to be happening at our Rainforest Alliance certified tea estate in Kericho, Kenya. We take any allegation of this nature very seriously and will take immediate action if there is evidence to prove that such behaviour has taken place.

Our tea plantation is more than 75km (50 miles) long and employs 16 000 people, so we do not pretend that occasional issues never arise. This is why we have several measures in place to ensure that allegations of inappropriate behaviour, if they occur, can be reported in confidence by our workers at Kericho.

We have met with SOMO twice to ask them for evidence to back up their claims in their report so we can take immediate action, but regrettably they decline to do so.  

Independent audit

In November 2010, in response to these claims, an independent audit was carried out at Kericho by the Sustainable Agriculture Network to ensure that Rainforest Alliance standards were still being upheld. They found no evidence to substantiate SOMO’s claims. Separately, in September 2011 the Rainforest Alliance recertified our tea estate for the fifth year in succession following a week-long independent audit of the site.

Rainforest Alliance certification

We believe that the living and working conditions at Kericho are among the best you will find anywhere in the East African tea industry. Our workers have access to schools, a hospital, and health centres for them and their families. As part of our Rainforest Alliance certification, we have to meet almost 100 environmental, social and economic standards on an ongoing basis. Throughout this year, the estate has worked hard to make further improvements to the site. Around €1.2m has been spent on housing maintenance and repairs, and social hall facilities have been extensively upgraded.

Tea picking is an inherently seasonal business so like many other agricultural organisations we rely on seasonal workers as part of our labour force. These workers are hired on fixed term contracts, with clearly defined rights. We do not use casual labour on the plantation.

Unilever does not own or operate the Indian tea plantations mentioned in SOMO’s report - these are third party suppliers to us. We require that all our suppliers comply with Unilever’s Supplier Code and have a track record of taking serious action against those which don’t. We have asked SOMO for detailed information about the alleged breaches at the Indian plantations, so that we can investigate them. If they are found to be true, we will act to correct them.

The Rainforest Alliance certification is an important tool in working towards sustainability and has played a crucial role in improving the livelihoods of tens of thousands of agricultural workers. When Rainforest Alliance auditors visit Kericho, they take full advantage of their freedom not only to visit any area of our tea estate without supervision, but to speak to any of our workers without management present. If SOMO intends to improve the living and working conditions in the tea industry, we believe publishing this report will have a counter-productive effect.

Attempting to undermine public trust in the Rainforest Alliance scheme is not a responsible approach to addressing these issues.

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