Human Rights in the Tea Sector – The Big Picture: Literature Review

Human Rights in the Tea Sector – The Big Picture: Literature Review

THIRST’s new report – drawing on over 200 authoritative references – finds that despite a plethora of human rights standards, policies and conventions, and a thriving industry, breaches of the human rights of workers and farmers persist across the tea sector. THIRST presents a Summary report of the Literature Review* to help the industry find ways of tackling this policy-practice gap by collaborating with civil society and other tea industry stakeholders.

There is much that is good about the tea sector – the global popularity of its product (it is still the world’s most popular drink after water), the millions of livelihoods it supports, and the innovation, passion and creativity that has driven it for nearly two centuries, resulting in many new and better ways of organising its production and trade.

Yet, despite the good intentions of many in the industry, on every human rights dimension we examined, there were sector-wide breaches. THIRST’s literature review, ‘Human Rights in the Tea Sector – The Big Picture’, found that:

  • Women across tea-growing regions experience economic and employment discrimination, sexual abuse and coercion and violation of maternity rights. Trade unions tend to be male-dominated so women’s voices often go unheard.
  • The sector is characterised in multiple origins by very low incomes – often below international poverty lines – even when they meet legal minimum wage levels and are agreed through collective bargaining.
  • Occupational health hazards such as musculoskeletal injuries from carrying heavy loads, spraying pesticides without the protective equipment, and exposure to tea dust in factories are common across the sector.
  • Housing in many parts of the sector is dilapidated with toilets in poor condition or non-existent; many workers do not have access to safe drinking water, leading to risk of cholera and typhoid, while medical care is often rudimentary.
  • Forced labour and child labour has been identified in the tea industries of multiple countries.
  • Older people in tea growing regions are highly vulnerable to rights abuses, losing their homes and access to medical care on retirement.

The report is the first phase in a three-year tea sector-wide Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA). It is designed help civil society, companies and governments to work out the most effective ways to reduce systemic issues that lead to human rights breaches.

The first step is to bring together tea industry stakeholders to discuss the findings of the Review. THIRST’s online Roundtable took place on May 31st

*The full Literature Review will be published in a few weeks’ time.