Sainsburys removed 'Fairly Traded' from its Red Label tea bags in 2022.

Sainsburys removed the ‘Fairly Traded’ accreditation from its Red Label tea bags in 2022

Sainsbury’s has promised “robust action” to safeguard workers in its supply chain after widespread sexual abuse was uncovered at a Kenyan tea farm owned by one of its suppliers.

A BBC investigation found evidence of long-running sexual abuse at the farm, including managers coercing job applicants into having sex in order to secure the role.

The farm is owned by British company James Finlay & Co, and provides tea for Sainsbury’s own-brand Red Label range.

“These upsetting and horrific allegations have no place in our supply chain and we’re committed to ensuring all workers receive fair treatment and have a safe place to work,” a Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said. “We are working with our supplier and other retailers and will take robust action to safeguard workers in our tea supply chain.”

More than 70 women told the BBC about abuse they’d experienced at the Finlays Kenya farm, and at another formerly owned by Unilever.

As part of the investigation, an undercover BBC reporter attended a job interview with a recruiter for the farm called John Chebochok. When she arrived, she found it was in a hotel room, and was asked by Chebochok to undress and touch him.The reporter eventually managed to leave after one of the production team called her phone.

Finlays Kenya has since suspended two managers at the centre of allegations, saying in a statement the company had reported Chebochok and another manager, John Asava, to the police.

“An independent investigation has been launched to fully understand what happened and where we can improve,” the statement said.

There is no indication Sainsbury’s was aware of the abuse. However, the retailer has made significant public commitments to protect workers within its wider supply chain, as part of a framework named ‘Plan for better’. It includes commitments, made in January 2022, specifically to tackle gender equality. 

‘Plan For Better’ also outlines commitments on climate change and sourcing and is overseen by a corporate responsibility and sustainability committee on the company’s board. Separate steering committees are also responsible for monitoring and executing specific areas of the strategy within its operations.

In February 2022, The Grocer revealed Sainsbury’s had replaced a controversial in-house tea sourcing accreditation from its Gold and Red Label own-brand teas.

The retailer launched the pilot in 2017, saying it would benefit suppliers by increasing transparency and ensure ethical supply for customers, through closer relations with suppliers. Fairly Traded also aimed to make it easier for workers to report abuse.

However, numerous charities criticised the scheme over concerns it would diminish the impact of the Fairtrade accreditation.