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.

The report is the first phase, focusing on Assessment, in a three-year tea sector-wide Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA).  It does not contain analysis or recommendations. These will come in the subsequent phases of the HRIA. The second phase, beginning in July 2022 will focus on Analysis of these findings through key informant interviews, a global tea producer survey and field visits to assess alternative approaches to tea production and trading. The third phase will be Action planning – co-creating with industry stakeholders a ‘highway map’ for a fair and thriving tea industry,  and the final phase will be Accountability – monitoring and evaluating progress.

The HRIA as a whole 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 and we invite all tea stakeholders to join us in the journey. Contact THIRST to discuss how.

Download the 20-page summary

Download the full report

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.