Thomson Reuters Foundation has published an article on certified farms in Sri Lanka called “Exclusive: Tea label giants vow probe after Sri Lanka labor abuse expose”. The article examines activities in nine tea estates certified against the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard (RA SAS). Among these, five are our clients.
The article concerns several types of wage deduction that left some workers struggling to afford to pay for their basic needs and questions the legality of some deductions.
Input from stakeholders including the media is an integral part of certification. We appreciate learning about verifiable concerns to inform our audit planning and support our commitment to continuing our best practice while auditing standards. NEPCon has therefore immediately started an investigation to look into these matters. This includes field audits without notice focusing on the concerns voiced in the article.
In all five tea estates, the audit team conducted reviews of records related to wages and benefits paid to workers as well as interviews with workers and estate representatives. This is the first time NEPCon performs such assessments in these estates as we have recently taken over the auditing responsibilities for these clients from another inspection body.
Our findings show that none of the wage deductions identified during our audits were made without prior approval by the local authorities or without workers’ consent. In fact, workers are made aware of the pay slips and all components in the local language four days prior to the payday. This provides chances for them to clarify uncertain deductions, if any, with the estate management before the payment is made.
As per the standard auditing practices, we analysed random samples of pay slips at five tea estates. The auditor team responsible for these recent audits did not come across a situation that the wage deductions exceed 75 percent or the daily wage is as low as 14 US cents as presented in the article.
In Sri Lanka, wages of estate workers must be decided by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) Year 2019-2021 between Employers’ Federation of Ceylon and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union. The investigation has verified all five estates have followed this agreement.
Contrary to the finding presented in the article, interviews with workers in five audited estates confirm that there was no wage deduction even if they picked less than the daily picking quota. Our auditors also paid careful attention while interviewing workers to ensure workers talked to us without the presence of their managers.
NEPCon welcomes the observation of insufficient use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the estates at the appropriate time, as raised in the article. We acknowledge improvement is needed by these estates for greater PPE compliance. We will continue to follow the enforcement of the RA SAS requirements closely, and where necessary, take actions if the requirements are not followed. We also look forward to open and constructive dialogues with stakeholders on this issue to improve the working condition of workers in tea estates.
The strength of certification is that it offers opportunities for third-party input to the management of all certified operations. In turn we commend companies that get certified as they have opened their management practices to third-party scrutiny and review.
NEPCon actively promotes and encourages multi-stakeholders to participate in the certification processes. While we strive to implement continuous improvements in our monitoring, we seek to obtain information that is not available to our side. We are keen to work with Thomson Reuters Foundation more on these issues. As part of our commitment to transparency, NEPCon welcomes interested parties to contact us and we will provide updates on further significant developments.
Should you have any questions regarding these matters, please contact us:
Laura Terrall Kohler
Director, NEPCon Assurance
email@example.com, +1 503 758 3054
Senior Specialist, NEPCon South Asia
firstname.lastname@example.org, +91 9 11 11 33 99 0