Global tea giants Lipton Teas and Infusions and Finlays have paused business with Toror Tea Factory following the appointment of John Chebochok as director of its owner, Tegat Tea Factory.

Allegations of sexual harassment against female workers at the factory were brought against Chebochok in an undercover investigation broadcast by the BBC in 2023.

He was elected as director of Tegat Tea Factory last month.

Both Lipton and Finlays have issued letters to Kenya’s Agriculture minister, Franklin Mithika Linturi, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), expressing concerns around the appointment.

In Lipton’s letter, chief supply chain officer Bruno Laine said the company was to “immediately” halt its purchasing of teas from the Toror factory, “until appropriate measures are taken to address this serious issue”.

The Pukka teas manufacturer also encouraged other partners in the sector to follow its lead.

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“Allowing Mr Chebochok, a figure central to serious allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, to stand for and subsequently win election undermines His Excellency President Dr Ruto’s ambition for Kenyan tea to be recognised worldwide as a mark of quality,” Laine said.

“Our joint work with the government and shared interest in the success of ‘Kenya Origin’ tea as seen to symbolise sustainable quality, means it is imperative that the tea sector in Kenya upholds the highest standards of ethics and social responsibility in the global market.”

He added: “We trust that the Government of Kenya is equally committed to the wellbeing of its citizens and the integrity of its key industries. We look forward to a swift and appropriate resolution to this matter and remain open to providing any necessary support to ensure the best interests of all stakeholders are upheld.”

A Finlays spokesperson also confirmed to Just Drinks it had written to the KTDA regarding the appointment. It said it had threatened to “not continue to purchase tea from Toror Tea Factory while Mr Chebochok holds the role of director”.

“Finlays is committed to working with the entire tea sector to eliminate gender-based violence from tea production,” the spokesperson added.

Responding to the news of Chebochok’s appointment in a statement on X, the KTDA said it has asked “all our tea buyers, stakeholders, and partners to allow us to work with all the concerned players and authorities to resolve concerns raised regarding his nomination”.

According to the group, shareholders of the factory still need to cast a vote to approve Chebochok’s appointment, and that “the process of confirming the directors is yet to be completed”.

It added that: “KTDA has a zero-tolerance policy on gender-based violence, sexual harassment, corruption, and any other such unethical behaviour and we condemn such acts that pose a great risk not only to Tegat Tea Factory Company but also to the entire tea sector in Kenya.”

Industry non-profit Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) has also been in contact with the KTDA following Chebochock’s appointment, urging the group to suspend him from the role.

In response to Lipton and Finlay’s letters, ETP told Just Drinks: “While neither Finlays or Liptons are current members of ETP, we will collaborate with any organisation in the tea sector dedicated to eradicating such abuses from their operations and supply chains.

“We believe our members must take responsibility for their supply chains and are working with our members to embed Human Rights Due Diligence in their business practices.

“We are also supporting our members to transition to our newly revised membership criteria, which demonstrate a commitment to responsible business practices in line with emerging global Human Rights Due Diligence legislation.”

Based in Amsterdam, Lipton Teas and Infusions sells a range of well know tea brands to more than 100 countries globally, including PG Tips, Lipton and Pukka. It was acquired by private equity firm CVC from Unilever in 2022.

Finlays, headquartered in London in the UK, sells tea, coffee and extract ingredients to drinks companies, retailers and foodservice businesses worldwide. It manages operations in the Americas, Europe, the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East and CIS countries. It has tea sourcing locations in Kenya, Argentina, Sri Lanka and China.