A Panorama investigative report titled Sex for Work: The True Cost of Our Tea has aired on BBC One alleging gross sexual misconduct and gender-based violence (GBV) on Kenyan tea plantations.
The allegations are appalling: 75 percent of the women approached by the BBC’s investigative team admitted to experiencing sexual misconduct by their bosses and hiring managers. For its part, the documentary spotlights a pervasive abuse of power in the workplace that has its roots in a global patriarchal system of gender-based oppression.
The BBC investigation is nothing less than a #MeToo moment for tea.
But it should spark a #MeToo moment for our entire agricultural system. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), gender-based violence or violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a global pandemic that affects a staggering 1 in 3 women in their lifetime.
Each day, millions of working women and women farmers remain at risk of abuse and harassment which threatens their livelihoods, economic futures, and mental and physical well-being. This is inexcusable, unacceptable, and it must end.
Fairtrade unequivocally condemns all sexual harassment, abuse, and violence. No one should have to find work in exchange for sex and workers should never be subjected to sexual abuse and violence in their workplace. Although the allegations raised in the Panorama documentary do not refer to Fairtrade-certified estates, the nature, severity and sheer pervasiveness of the allegations compels us to trigger our Protection and Safeguarding Policy and follow up with Fairtrade-certified stakeholders in a manner consistent to best practice guidelines on safeguarding and in adherence to local and applicable laws.
Towards gender equity
Much ground has been achieved in the journey towards gender equity in food systems worldwide. But the road to ending gender-based violence in agriculture is still a long one. That’s why at Fairtrade we call on all global stakeholders to work together for sustainable and long-lasting results in ending gender-based violence against women workers in agriculture.
We urge strategic stakeholders to collectively work together in establishing organisational structures that include women in leadership positions, including management.
And we call on said stakeholders to involve women in all reporting and remediation mechanisms where they can help detect, analyse, report, and set up those systems necessary to addressing gender-based violence and abuse.
Any deciding body on gender-based violence that only includes men is inadequate and must be immediately adjusted to include women, especially those trained in gender rights and aware of how traditional power dynamics and structures perpetuate and enable gender discrimination and violence against women and girls.
A collective effort
We further call on stakeholders to ensure that women are provided with safe spaces in the workplace where they can anonymously report instances of gender-based violence and abuse while maintaining their individual and personal security following the submission of any allegation.
Finally, we demand that governments ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 190 – the first-ever global convention to combat violence and harassment in the workplace. Governments must recognise that gender-based violence is a scourge that they too have a critical role in stopping.
No single organisation has the sole answer to resolving gender-based violence. Instead, a collective effort is needed with all strategic stakeholders working together to end this crisis once and for all. Together, we can make a difference. The time to act is now.
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