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Project October 18, 2022

Sex for Jobs in Malawi's Tea Sector

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This project explores sexual exploitation and harassment of women working in the southern African country of Malawi’s tea estates. Malawi is an agro-based economy, and tea is the country's second largest foreign exchange earner and one of the largest employers. Malawi is the 15th largest exporter of tea globally. Malawi’s tea is exported to the United States of America, United Kingdom, Singapore, South Africa, and Poland, as well as other European and Asian countries.

This story is more important now because of the growing global movement to ensure that export products are produced using fair trade, ethical agriculture, and human rights practices as stipulated in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. There is also a growing global movement against the sexual exploitation of women in the workplace. Women at the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder are usually the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and harassment due to poverty and low levels of education. This story exposes some of that.

Through this project, we tell the story of five out of 36 women who experienced gender-based violence (including, in some cases, rape) and sexual harassment on tea estates in Mulanje and Thyolo districts in Southern Malawi while employed by Eastern Produce Malawi (EPM), an indirect subsidiary of Camellia Plc (a British firm). Their case was heard in the U.K., and the court awarded 2.3 million British Pounds in compensation and other fees.

While there were reports of the court’s settlement, details of what the women went through have not been reported in the media, and neither has how they decided to take action, how much compensation they received, and how their lives have or have not changed since then. It’s still not known if EPM honored its pledge as per the ruling or the impact on the larger #MeToo campaign. We see this as a story that will unravel decades-long tales of exploitation, as the plantations have been around for over a century.

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