A judge in Scotland has given hundreds of Kenyan tea pickers the green light to press charges against multinational Finlays in the European country for “modern-day slavery”.
The more than 700 workers are current and former employees of Finlays, who claim that the working conditions on Finlays’ tea farms in Kenya ruined their health and are suing for damages in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
The pickers claim they were routinely asked to work up to 12 hours a day without a break, for six days a week, earning a wage of roughly Kes15,300 (£100) per month in 2017.
The BBC quoted two of the former tea pickers, who will take part in the suit, describing the work conditions in Finlay’s tea farms in Kericho County.
Emily Chepkurui Sang, 47, said she worked 12-hour shifts without breaks and was recently retired on medical grounds with back and neck pain.
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She told BBC Scotland: “The health problems are a result of the work I was doing. At the moment I have a back injury and I retired on medical grounds.
“This means I have no income, my children are suffering – I don’t know what I can do but I want justice.”
Another picker Janeth Chemutai Tuigong worked at Finlays for 10 years and also suffers from neck and back pain which she claims were a result of her working conditions.
She said: “My husband has deserted me, I am only left with my children. I cannot support my family and I am worried about my children.”
Patrick McGuire, a lawyer, and partner at Thompsons Solicitors which represents the Kenyan workers said: “We need to end their working conditions that can be described without exaggeration as modern-day slavery. It is also a historic day for Scots Law as Lord Weir indicated that in principle the criteria for granting the application to bring group proceedings are met.”
Founded in 1750, Finlays Group is one of the world’s biggest producers of tea and coffee and includes the American multinational chain of coffeehouses and roastery reserves, Starbucks, among its customers.
James Finlay Kenya Ltd is located in the highlands of Kericho County bordering Mau Forest.
The company runs a 10,300-hectare farm out of which 5,200 hectares are under various varieties of teas such as coloury, brisk CTC teas and floral, smooth as well as orthodox teas.