Divesting Tea Gardens Signals Change in Strategy for Lipton

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A poisoned chalice?

Perhaps Browns will find the acquisition of Finlay's and Lipton's Kenya plantations the ultimate poisoned chalice. These tea lands have been plagued by labor and human rights issues for decades - mechanized harvesting displacement of workers, an outstanding H&S court case against Finlays, sexual abuse issues, and ancestral land ownership claims. Yet Browns are committed by the terms of sale to solve all these problems that the MNCs could not (would not?) solve. And the kicker is that Lipton agrees to buy the huge quality tea that Browns will grow - and doubtless, the small print says - 'but only if Browns do successfully sort out the HR mess that has landed in their lap'.
This passing-the-buck deal certainly seems to be a superb, if unethical, way out for trouble for Finlays and Lipton. As it now makes Sri Lanka based Browns the largest single global producer of tea it most definitely has a hint of being a vanity project - let's hope for the sale of East African tea workers that Browns can successfully unloose the Gordian knot.

Nigel Melican 11 days ago

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