The Rainforest Alliance is aware of the grave allegations of human rights violations and sexual abuse on certified tea estates in Malawi, Africa. We take these allegations very seriously and condemn any violations of human rights which are shown to take place on Rainforest Alliance Certified operations. We strongly believe that worker rights and well-being are of the utmost importance and as such, they are an integral part of our certification standard. The Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard follows the international labor conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and as such, our standard includes strict requirements on working and living conditions on certified operations.
The Rainforest Alliance has been informed of a legal case being brought in the UK courts that includes serious allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination and even rape in the workplace on select tea estates in Malawi. This case is similar to a complaint brought in February 2020, when the Rainforest Alliance’s UK subsidiary was alerted to a pending legal petition to be filed in England’s High Court on behalf of approximately 40 Malawian women working on select tea estates in Malawi. That petition also concerned the same estates which were certified by the Rainforest Alliance. The Rainforest Alliance immediately launched an investigation and requested unannounced investigative audits to be carried out by the certification body responsible for auditing the estates. However, because of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the ensuing travel restrictions imposed by the Malawian government, the investigative audits were repeatedly delayed. Because of the nature of the allegations, a remote audit was deemed inappropriate and the certification body was asked to prioritize the investigation as soon as it was possible to visit the estates. Once travel restrictions were lifted in the region (January 2021) the investigative audits were carried out as planned and took place in February 2021.
Auditors were made aware of the specifics of the allegations and were asked to specifically focus on verifying compliance with the requirements of Principle 4 of the 2017 Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard, which aims to protect the wellbeing of workers on certified estates. The audits found areas of noncompliance on two of the estates and as a result, the certification of these estates has been cancelled. The final audit reports can be found on our public website.
The Rainforest Alliance believes that partnership and collaboration are key in addressing the major sustainability challenges faced in the tea sector. Certification alone cannot solve any country’s entrenched socio-economic problems. Our work is a joint effort with producers and other actors in the supply chain; without the collaboration of these other actors – including governments, companies and NGOs, no certification program can resolve these challenges alone. We take our role in this context very seriously – the Rainforest Alliance remains committed to improving living conditions on certified farms around the globe. In close collaboration with local and global stakeholders, we will continue to do our part to bring these challenging sectors to a more sustainable reality.
The Rainforest Alliance is a founding and full member of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL), an organization established to strengthen the integrity of social and environmental certification systems and whose members are international standard-setting, certification, and accreditation organizations.