Kenyan workers are suing James Finlay Tea Company for slave-like working conditions.
The SCOTISH-based tea giant which supplies big United Kingdon supermarkets, Tesco and Sainsbury’s is being sued by 1,300 workers over allegations they are “treated like animals”.
The landmark lawsuit against James Finlay, based in Aberdeen, has been made by Kenyan plantation workers who hope to win compensation for injuries they claim were caused by working conditions.
The Times reported that the plaintiffs are claiming for damages caused by negligence, and are arguing that they were exposed to conditions that was clear would hurt them, resulting in their spines being permanently harmed.
The tea harvested by the workers on James Finlay plantations is currently stocked by many big brands including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Starbucks, the Co-Op and Bettys and Taylors Group.
Gwen Morgan-Evans, a partner at Hugh James, the first of several law firms to work on the case said: “If successful, this case will set a precedent and show that British companies cannot harm their workers abroad for the benefit of profit.”
James Finlay’s estates in Kericho stretch across almost 25,000 acres – the size of Cardiff – and include a Fair Trade-certified factory and farm.
Around 7,000 people live and work on its tea farms, which harvests 28 million kg of leaves each year.
A professor of orthopaedics from Edinburgh travelled to Kenya where the tea farms are to examine seven original claimants in the case.
They found evidence of injury to their spines, aging their backs by as much as 20 years.
The case has now been filed in the Scottish court of Session.
It comes after an initial lawsuit was filed against the company in December 2017, specifically relating to seven different workers.
But it was stalled because James Finlay appealed a court-ordered inspection of the farm and the appeal court ordered that the inspection needed the consent of the authorities or courts in Kenya.
But it was stalled because James Finlay allegedly blocked a court-ordered inspection of the farm by experts in the Kenyan courts.
The company has been said to have been introducing machines whilst fighting the case, but other companies still use hand picking to harvest quality tea.
Despite being based in central London, James Finlay Kenya’s registered offices are in Aberdeen, which is why the lawsuit was brought in Scotland.
Last month, Thompsons solicitors filed papers for the first 571 claimants of the massive lawsuit, but it is expected to reach around 1,300 claimants by the end of October.
One of the plaintiffs claimed workers were treated like “prisoners” and “animals, not humans”.
They added: “We were not allowed to go for toilet breaks and there was no time to eat food.”
James Finlay Kenya stated it was committed to “maintaining high standards and working conditions for all our employees in Kenya”.
The company also confirmed it would “thoroughly investigate” the allegations and “appoint an independent third party to visit and report on conditions”, and that “any failures or shortcomings will be fully addressed”.
It said its workers were paid according to a collective bargaining agreement with the union. Basic pay rates for James Finlay Kenya start at 15,950 Kenyan shillings a month (£105.50), more than double the minimum wage of 7,240.95.
– The Scottish Sun
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