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"Consent. Just Consent. Then you can come to work"

THIRST and Women Working Worldwide, alongside tea sustainability expert Michael Pennant-Jones, have pinpointed how GBVH enablers manifest specifically within the tea sector in this groundbreaking report, "Consent. Just consent. Then you can come to work" shines a light on the underlying causes and multiple perilous risk factors associated with gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) for the women producing the tea that we all enjoy.

In the wake of the BBC Panorama exposé, "Sex for Work: The True Cost of our Tea," which aired in February 2023, it became painfully evident that the hard-fought efforts to mitigate GBVH on tea estates had not been sustained over time. The report, titled "Consent. Just consent. Then you can come to work,"(a direct quote from the Panorama exposé) scrutinises the challenges within the tea sector and collaborators,

A central issue highlighted is the persistently low wages for female tea workers, resulting in malnutrition, indebtedness, and the adoption of precarious survival strategies, such as transactional sex. Gender-based pay disparities exacerbate women's vulnerability, with many relying on piece-rated plucking to bolster their earnings, even if they reside on the estate. Mechanization of harvesting further exacerbates the problem by rendering numerous women tea pluckers redundant, particularly in East Africa.

Furthermore, women in the tea sector frequently shoulder sole responsibility for their families, managing both unpaid domestic care work and paid employment. This dual burden often confines them to abusive work environments.The lack of women in management positions within the tea sector poses another significant challenge. Efforts to appoint women estate managers have yielded mixed results, with various regions facing unique obstacles. Tea trade unions, predominantly male-dominated, are undergoing transformation, albeit gradually.

Despite existing efforts to combat GBVH in the tea sector, a systemic approach is needed to empower women workers, reduce their vulnerability to GBVH, and ensure access to remedies and justice for victims. The industry must acknowledge GBVH as a pressing human rights issue, conduct more research, increase transparency, foster collaboration among tea companies and other stakeholders, and advocate for governments in tea-producing countries to ratify the ILO’s Convention 190 against violence and harassment in the world of work.

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