More multinational tea firms in Kenya plan to enjoin a class action case in the UK by more than 1,000 farm workers in solidarity with one of their members, days after a court ordered a Scottish tea company to stop blocking the case.
Through their lobby, the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) says should the case be allowed to proceed in the UK, it will hurt the rest of multinational firms as employees of other companies may follow suit with similar cases. The workers are suing James Finlay Kenya Ltd (JFKL) for damages in Scotland's supreme civil court, the Court of Session.
Scotland's civil court has ordered James Finlay to stop a legal action that would affect the ongoing case in the UK where former employees of the firm have sued for compensation.
The Scotland court ruled that the Kericho-based James Finlay should halt the action in Kenya to allow the lawsuit to get back on track.
The workers claim they suffered musculoskeletal injuries working on JFKL's tea farms in Kenya.
They allege they were required to carry out repetitive manual labour with long hours and no breaks, and that they suffered injuries which have left them unable to work.
This comes even as the Employment and Labour Relations Court last week temporarily stopped the workers from pursuing the case after James Finlay moved to stop the own going case in the UK, arguing that Kenya’s judicial system can hear the case.
“We are reviewing the current situation on James Finlay to understand the magnitude that this case in the UK will have on other tea firms, we want this case to be tried locally because our courts have the jurisdiction to do so,” said Apollo Kiarii, chief executive officer KTGA.
Mr Kiarii said the ruling in Scotland will be detrimental in the tea sector not only in Kenya but also in other countries where these multinationals operate given that the tea firms follow the same procedure on labour practices.
“We may see a situation where such cases will crop up from employees of our members based on the outcome of the ruling in Scotland and this may paralyse the tea sector,” he said.
The workers claim they developed injuries while working for the UK-registered tea firm at its tea plantation in Kenya.
The Finlays group is one of the world's biggest producers of tea and coffee and numbers Starbucks among its customers.
It operates on five continents and can trace its origins back to James Finlay, a cotton merchant who founded the business in Scotland in 1750.
The firm has defended its record on health and safety and says it makes a major contribution to the economy of the Kericho region in Kenya, where it has 10,300 hectares (25,500 acres) of tea fields and employs more than 7,000 people.