Human Rights in Assam Tea Estates – The Long View is a literature review covering eight documents spanning 15 years of the Assam tea industry. These documents were written by leading NGOs including SOMO, War on Want, Traidcraft and Oxfam; and by Columbia Law School, the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition – and include a first-hand account from Iris MacFarlane, the wife of a 1955 Assam tea planter. The reports draw on primary research and/or wider literature reviews including local academic studies and historical documents, some dating as far back as 1866.
Four issues have emerged repeatedly during that time: wages, housing, sanitation and health.
There is very little likelihood that claims of shortcomings in these areas by multiple respected organisations over several decades are either false or isolated. It’s time for the tea industry to acknowledge the problems and to work with civil society, trade unions and governments to overcome them. This is particularly important and urgent at a time when the tea industry in general and the Assam tea industry in particular are facing unprecedented economic and environmental challenges.
By accepting that human rights shortcomings are historically built in to the tea system and agreeing to work to find ways to overcome them, the tea industry will be demonstrating a courage, honesty and humanity that will be much more effective in bringing to an end the poverty and suffering of millions of workers and their families, making Assam tea not only one of the most valued and high quality in the world, but also the most ethically produced.