THIRST News Update – July 2022

THIRST News Update – July 2022

Highlights: Oxfam chief challenges tea industry purchasing policies; ILO landmark decision – health & safety is fundamental right; human/animal conflict on the rise in tea areas; THIRST full literature review report published


Image: Oxfam CEO, Danny Sriskandarajah highlights the undervaluing of tea today. Photo: Louise Nicholls


‘Human Rights in the Tea Sector – the Big Picture’ – full report out now!

THIRST is delighted to announce the publication of the full report of our literature review, ‘Human Rights in the Tea Sector – the Big Picture’.

It provides more detailed evidence from publicly available sources on the shape of the industry, the human rights policies and standards that apply in principle to tea workers and farmers, and their actual experience of human rights as reported by a wide range of NGOs, academics, trade unions and media.

The review found 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. One of the key drivers for this,  as emerged in the roundtable discussion on the findings, is the fact that the price paid for tea being leaves producers unable to cover the cost of sustainable production

This point was powerfully reiterated by Oxfam’s CEO, Danny Sriskandarajah at the  recent ETP/IDH ‘Team Up’ conference in London – for more details see below.

This is just the first phase of the three-year study in which we bring together the widely reported issues. But THIRST will not stop there. The next phase will move on to analysying the causes of the issues and co-creating solutions with the industy and other stakeholders. More details below.

Tea sector Human Rights Impact Assessment – Phase 2: Tea Producer Survey

As mentioned in last month’s update, Phase 2 of the tea sector HRIA – in which we will analyse the root causes of the impacts highlighted in the literature review – kicks off with a global survey of tea producers.

THIRST invites tea production companies and associations across the world to take this opportunity to share their perspectives.

The survey will be completely confidential and anonymous. Producers will be asked a set of questions about their experience of purchasing practices generally, about the challenges they face in meeting human rights standards on the ground, what they feel are the drivers of these challenges and what solutions they would suggest.

To register your interest in taking part, please

Contact THIRST

This will be complemented by Key informant interviews – with industry insiders from tea brands, traders, producers, auctioneers, estate managers, workers and farmers as well as technical experts on issues such as international trade, human rights, and gender and Field visits – to study at first hand alternative approaches to tea production and trading including alternative business models, community development forums, tea swaps and more. 

THIRST invites NGOs, tea companies, retailers, investors, government bodies and other organisations to partner with us on this exciting journey. To find out how to get involved, please contact THIRST’s CEO, Sabita Banerji, for an initial chat. You can reach her at

THIRST is also available to provide technical advice and guidance to tea companies seeking to improve their human rights policies and practices. Again, please contact Sabita Banerji, at to discuss your needs.


Support THIRST’s work

If you find these updates useful, please consider supporting our work by contributing to our costs. This will enable us to continue bringing you these updates, maintaining our unique Knowledge Hub of resources on human rights in the tea sector, convening roundtable discussions on topical issues, and conducting vital research into human rights in the tea sector, such as our ongoing Tea Sector Human Rights Impact Assessment. Thank you.



Tea News Summary

Disclaimer: The following updates consist of a summary of articles from the media – they are shared in the spirit of learning and do not necessarily reflect the views of THIRST. Please contact THIRST if you spot any factual errors or would like to raise any other issues connected with the Update. THIRST will not be held liable for any such inaccuracies in the  articles summarised here or the external links provided.

In this month’s summary:







Oxfam chief challenges tea pricing policies

Oxfam’s chief executive, Danny Sriskandarakah reminded participants of the 2022 Team Up conference, that in 1706 Twinings sold 1lb of tea for the equivalent of £500 (in today’s money), yet today he said he had bought 1lb of (Rainforest Alliance certified) tea for £1.19. He challenged the industry to tackle the purchasing policies this price tag represents, because living wages for workers cannot be achieved when tea is sold so cheaply. He said that all stakeholders – and especially major tea companies need to go beyond stating what needs to be done, and just do it. (THIRST notes – more details will be available via ETP in due course) 

Impact of Sri Lankan economic crisis on tea workers

Sri Lankan tea workers face reduced work availability due to double whammy of economic crisis and the repercussions of the overnight fertilizer/perticide ban (that was subsequently revoked) (Deutsche Welle).

Digitized systems to improve tea farmers’ access to credit and global markets

A digitized system known as ‘Smart Kungahara’ has been piloted in the coffee value chain in Rwanda under a Public-Private Partnership between BK Techouse and the national agricultural export development board. It comprises a database of farmers and their land, and traces the quantity of coffee they supply to processing units and the amount paid to them. This “traceable history of payment” will improve farmers’ access to credit. The system will be rolled out to other sectors including horticulture and tea. (The New Times)

Another Rwandan innovation is also due to be rolled out to tea in due course: EAX, a regional commodity exchange, links smallholder farmers to local, national and global markets, and aims to “secure competitive prices for their products, and facilitate access to financing opportunities.” (New Times)

Tea traders welcome Kenya tea VAT review

Tea traders in Kenya welcomed a proposed review of the taxation of Kenyan tea which they say was putting it at a disadvantage compared to tea from other countries where such tax is not imposed. Reducing VAT on tea should “allow more traders to do value addition locally” and boost domestic consumption. (Business Daily)

Tea land acquisitions impact workers’ livelihoods

Thousands of plantation workers led by Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) protested against Oil India Limited (OIL)’s acquisition of tea garden land and the uprooting of tea bushes, fearing the destruction of their livelihoods. (North East Now). Elsewhere in Assam, etates managers have imposed a “lock-out” on workers protesting the acquisition of part of the estate they depend on for their livelihood for the construction of an airport. During the lock-out they will not have access to wages or benefit. (Barak Bulletin). The 1200 families working on the estate state had earlier each been offered ₹1 lakh compensation by the Assam state government. (The Logical Indian) It is not clear if this has yet been forthcoming.

In West Bengal, meanwhile, officials “have drawn up a plan to support workers of closed and sick tea estates in the district and provide them assistance to earn a living through alternative means…Representatives of the tea board, however, said that they do not have funds or schemes for the tea workers and their families and right now and that the board is focusing on the small tea sector.” (Telegraph India


Kenyan smallholder tea farmers encouraged to add value to be competitive

On the UN’s International Tea Day, Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) advised smallholder tea farmers in Kenya to “constantly innovate to remain relevant in a competitive market”. It advised that “Even with the surge in tea demand during the Covid-19 lockdowns, international prices, have been declining for the past four decades” and recommended urgent actions to tackle the issues facing smallholders, who now account for 60% of global tea production. They were advised to “increase the value of their tea products through standards, specialty teas, product innovation and generic promotion.” (Standard Media)

S Indian tea smallholders offered bail-out

In South India, the Tamil Nadu government is taking steps to clear the arrears of nearly thousands of small tea growers; following a progress review of INDCOSERVE, “the country’s largest tea cooperative federation…the government has allocated Rs 65 crore to modernise tea factories under the federation.” (The Print)


Tea workers’ houses damaged in heavy rain

Tea workers in Bangladesh are experiencing damage to their houses and flooding due to the dilapidated condition of their houses, with long delays in repairs. One worker is quoted as saying “”We are left panicking whenever it rains, fearing that our houses might collapse, owing to their dilapidated conditions.” Tea garden management has committed to “meet all demands made by workers in phases.”  (The Daily Star)

Mother and Child-Friendly Seal for Responsible Business launched

The Centre for Child Rights and Business (CCRB) has launched the “Mother and Child-Friendly Seal for Responsible Business” (Seal initiative) in Sri Lanka. The initiative is a partnership between CCRB Save the Children, the Planters Association of Ceylon, Plantation Human Development Trust, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs. Under the intiativie, businesses will “take a pledge and develop an action plan to strengthen initiatives for women and children in the communities they are connected to”. “Child-centric impact assessments” will be carried out on these initiatives which will then be issued with the Mother and Child-Friendly Seal for Responsible Business. The Seal Initiative says it “differs from other certification schemes, as it identifies entry points along the supply chain. It rewards businesses that demonstrate their commitments made to improve the wellbeing of children and mothers, beyond compliance-driven targets.”(Ada Derana Business)

Safety and health are now fundamental rights at work

In a landmark decision on June 10th, the 110th International Labour Conference added safety and health to its Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This means that “all ILO Member States commit to respect and promote the fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions.” The Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, adopted in 1998, also include:

  • freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
  • the effective abolition of child labour;
  • the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.


Tea farmers to get new hospital for non-communicable diseases

KTDA has committed to establishing “a special hospital to curb the rise of chronic diseases among farmers” in Kenya as “non-communicable diseases [such as arthritis and neuropathy] have hit farmers at an alarming rate”. (The Star)


Wages: minimum, interim, living, unpaid or fairtrade?  

The West Bengal government unilaterally declared an “interim relief” 15% (Rs 28) wage increase for tea workers until the minimum wage – which has not been revised since 2017 – has been set.  Tea workers had been demanding Rs 295 – representing a Rs 93 increase on current wages and fear that the interim relieve will put minimum wage setting back on the back burner. (Newsclick)

Following on from their 72 hour strike last month,  North Bengal‘s 10,000 tea estate staff (ie clerical and other support staff rather than tea pluckers and labourers) “have threatened to go on indefinite strike from July 4 if an their demand for a three-year salary agreement is not met.” (Telegraph India)

Workers from ten tea estates in Darjeeling staged a sit-in protest against the non-payment of their wages for the previous two month, threatening to form a cooperative and run the estate themselves if the wages were not settled (Millenium Post). The estate management committed to clearing the backlog by 22nd June. (Kalimpong News)

Accessing their wages at all is a challenge for some workers; those in the Valparai district of Tamil Nadu say that to get to cash machines/ATMs they either need to take half a day off work or pay someone to withdraw money for them. (New India Express)

In Kenya, Fairtrade international announced that “Fairtrade’s Base wage is set at a minimum of 70 percent of the take-home pay needed for a living wage, which has been established by the Global Living Wage Coalition of standard setters for more than 30 countries and regions” and that this means “wages will increase by up to 15 percent for thousands of workers in origins where workers currently earn less than the Fairtrade Base Wage.” Tea is listed as one of the crops covered by Fairtrade. (Capital FM)

Meanwhile, “Fairtrade Africa has faulted the government for the newly imposed restriction that prohibits farmers from making direct sales to buyers. The organization also faulted the directive that all teas produced in Kenya for the export market be sold exclusively through the auction process.” (Capital FM)

The Financial Times has released a podcast on ‘How tea plantations are testing private equity – Unilever’s sale of its tea business has become a test for how PE groups approach workers’ pay, conditions and safety’ (Financial Times)


Human-animal conflict in tea areas on the rise

Reports of attacks by wild animals on tea workers in India are increasing, as their natural habitats come under increasing pressure. Last month there were attacks by bears, elephants and leopards across the country. A North Indian migrant tea worker in Tamil Nadu in the south was attacked by a sloth bear (Times of India), another  was attacked by a leopard in West Bengal (Millenium Post)  where in a a separate incident, tea workers’ houses were damaged by elephants searching for food (Pipa News). The victims of the bear and leopard attacks both survived their injuries and were treated in hospital, with the W Bengal Forest department bearing the cost of that particular patient’s treatment. The bear and elephants were chased back into the forest, while the leopard was tranquilised, captured and released into a National Park. Tea workers in W Bengal escaped injury, but their houses were damaged by elephants in search of food.

Tata Tea launches climate awareness campaign

On World Environment Day, Tata Tea launched an awareness-raising campaign on climate change, aiming to explain the impact on individuals its impacgt on future generations. (Economic Times)

Adverse weather impacts tea production and transportation

Tea planters in Tamil Nadu claim that the “massive fall in tea production” they have experienced this year is due to, “Adverse weather in tea growing regions like Nilgiris and Anamalai, as well as the non-availability of fertilisers in the right volume at the right time, led to the fall in production.” (New India Express).

Meanwhile, heavy rains and landslides in Assam  have disrupted the transporation of tea “causing crisis of working capital needed for day-to-day expenses of the gardens, including wages and ration for hundreds of its workers” according to the Tea Association of India. (East Mojo).

Despite “facing losses due to submergence of bushes, land slides, damages of labour qtrs, bridges & roads” members of the Indian Tea Association responded to calls for help in the current Assam floods, providing tractors and trailers to help with relief work. (ITA) See also ‘Assam: Indian tea association concerned over floods in Barak Valley’ (North East Now)


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