THIRST News Update – May 2023

THIRST News Update – May 2023

Highlights: THIRST guest blog calls for end to GBV in supply chains; weather extremes from drought to storm impacting tea across continents; worsening cost-price imbalance in tea leads to vicious non-pay/strike cycle.

Image: Schoolchildren Nishanthini and her brother Suhendrakumar prepare to leave for classes, amid an economic crisis in Sri Lanka. Photo: Jeevan Ravindran for The National

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THIRST blog calls for end to gender based violence in supply chains

“There is no place in our world or our supply chains for gender based violence and harassment. No place in our world for men to demand sex for work. It is time for women to support each other and welcome those men who recognise and promote equality.” In a guest blog, Caroline Downey of Women Working Worldwide reflects on what went wrong for a tea company “doing all the right things a forward thinking company should be doing to address gender equity and equality” after the exposé on sexual exploitation within its supply chain. And what needs to be done to ensure that “doing the right things” is sustained so that women are safe from predators in their own company. 

THIRST is working with Women Working Worldwide and Michael Pennant-Jones to produce a paper on the structural and systemic drivers of sexual exploitation specific to the tea sector to help frame the discussion – and resulting actions by the tea industry and its stakeholders – going forward. The paper is due to be published at the end of May 2023.

New on THIRST’s Knowledge Hub

Have you recently published – or soon plan to publish – a report or article on any aspect of the human rights or environment of tea workers and/or farmers? Let us know and we will add it to the THIRST Knowledge Hub and promote it in the THIRST News Update. Can’t find a report you are looking for on the Knowledge Hub? Let us know and we will try to find it for you and add it to the Hub.

  • Child Rights Risk Assessment: Tea industry supply chain in Sri Lanka 
    The aim of the study was to identify and make recommendations in respect of potential entry points to influence sustainable progress and improve the lives of children. (Save the Children’s Resource Centre)

  • Mother & Child-Friendly Seal | Mother and Child-Friendly Seal for Responsible Business
    Website for an initiative to create supportive environments for the wellbeing of female workers and children in Sri Lanka’s tea #estates through activities based on business entities’ own baselines. (The Centre for Child Rights and Business Sri Lanka and key stakeholders in the Sri Lankan tea industry)

Visit Knowledge Hub

Update on the Human Rights Impact Assessment of the tea sector

THIRST is now about half way through its three-year Human Rights Impact Assessment of the global tea sector. We are now in Phase 2 – Root Cause Analysis, for which we have conducted a survey of tea producers around the world, and are in the process of interviewing some of them alongside a wide range of tea industry stakeholders. To date we have interviewed or held focus group discussions – face-to-face and by phone or video conference with almost seventy tea sector stakeholders including tea pluckers, smallholder tea farmers, trade union leaders, welfare officers, exporters, brokers, tea company managers, importers, NGOs, brands, retailers,  a Prevention of Sexual Harassment Committee Chair, an agrarian economist and other independent experts.

We asked them if the ‘human rights gap’ identified in our Phase 1 literature review rings true for them (it has been a more or less unanimous ‘yes’ so far), what they feel are the main drivers of this gap, what trends and patterns they are seeing that may impact positively or negatively on the sector and its ability to deliver on human rights and about their predictions and hopes for the future of the sector. Once we have analysed the findings and published our report on the root cause analysis of the human rights gap according to tea industry stakeholders themselves, we will invite them back in Phase 3 to consider solutions in a series of Action Planning Roundtables.

For more information, or if you would like to be interviewed about root caues or to take part in the Action Planning Roundtables, please:

Contact THIRST 

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NGO news

Tea companies invited to parcipate in survey to help understand caste-related experience and needs

Caste-based discrimination in workplace often goes unnoticed by businesses working in caste affected countries. It can lead to harm of workers from caste-affected communities, including; discrimination in employment practices, such as recruitment and promotion; poorer working conditions, including sexual harassment, lesser wages, being assigned the dirtier or more hazardous tasks and facing abusive language and gestures;  discrimination in the services and utilities offered by an employer, such as housing, health care, and education and training. In more extreme cases in supply chains, it can also include the use of child and bonded labourers (debt slaves).

It is important for businesses to know how to identify, address and prevent caste-based discrimination, and to mitigate such issues in supply chains. As part of an initiative, Dalit Solidarity Network UK (DSN UK) in partnership with Ethical Trade Initiative is conducting a short survey to help us understand businesses experience and needs on the issue of caste-based discrimination both in the workplace and in their supply chain.

Please fill in the short survey and share with DSN UK your thoughts, experience and practices of your business on addressing Caste-based discrimination in workplace and in supply chain.

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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.

CLIMATE: Weather extremes impacting tea across continents

Extremes of weather from severe drought to heavy rains have taken their toll on tea production from India to Kenya. Drought has affected output in India’s Tripura and Darjeeling regions (with geo-political tensions also impacting demand). Kenya’s KTDA, too, has reported significant drop in productivity due to dry weather – while back in India heavy rain in the Kangra valley has “damaged the green buds of tea that were ready for plucking”. There is currently no government support for crop loss caused by weather extremes.

GBV:Tackling sexual discrimination and abuse

A pilot project was commissioned by Coop and Tesco, supported by Sedex, and undertaken by Partner Africa, [it] enhanced and adapted Sedex’s SMETA social auditing methodology to improve the detection of real and potential gender issues in the workplace… data showed that the number of gender findings increased six-fold, compared to the standard SMETA audit. Could such findings have helped to detect and deter the sexual exploitation highlighted in February’s Panorama exposé in Kenya? Human rights defenders there are questioning the suicide verdict of Godfrey Onyanga, the human rights activist who had offered to support the victims, calling for a thorough investigation into his death.

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PRICES: The cost-price imbalance of tea 

Several stories last month highlighted the unhealthy imbalance that has evolved between the rising cost of tea production and the stagnant prices producers are receiving for it. This is exacerbating the climate impacts mentioned above, and is depriving tea workers’ children of an education and proper nourishment. Indian tea producers are calling on their government to impose a floor price for tea to protect the industry from its current decline, although many commentators are warning that in the longer-run imposing a floor price could have a detrimental effect on prices overall as lower quality tea will icrease in volume adding to the global oversupply. This effect is already being seen in Kenya, where unsold tea is being withdrawn from auction as buyers move to lower price sources. The industry is nervous about the idea of raising tea prices for consumers, but a recent FAO study has shown that people consider tea a necessity rather than a luxury and demand for it is therefore relatively inelastic.

Strategies for tackling tea’s economic crisis

Companies and governments are adopting a range of strategies to tackle the economic crisis that the tea sector seems to be experiencing. These include diversification, with KTDA and ekaterra providing Kenyan tea farmers with with grants to diversify their crops and income;  Fairtrade and the ITC are also helping farmers to diversify in order to acheive the SDGs. Repurposing tea land is another survival strategy being adopted; the government of Kenya’s Nandi County plans to establish an industrial park in the tea-growing zone to address economic challenges resulting from the mechanisation of the tea industry, and India’s W Bengal state government has taken over tea land for use in tourism, workers’ accommodation and other businesses. Tea companies like TANTEA, are responding to labour shortages by seeking to improve productivity.

Companies in Kenya are focusing on local opportunties; Ekaterra is recruiting local residents (rather than internal migrants) to work on their estates while at least one Kenyan tea factory has started seeking local markets which, it claims, commands better prices than the auction. Other struggling tea origins such as Nepal and Myanmar are calling on their governments for more support in reducing production costs, boosting sales and protecting domestic tea from cheap immports. And finally, technology is playing an increasingly important role in tackling the sector’s problems by enhancing tea production – through drone-based soil and plant health analysis in India, and high-tech power and meteorological equipment to detect weather patterns, blockchain to ensure production, sales and traceability in China.

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Health & Safety:Fatalities and injuries in fields and factories

There have been several more leopard attacks on tea workers and their families in India this month, including two women, two men and a suspected fatal leopard attack on a 7-year old boy. But apparently tea factories in India are also dangerous workplaces; a committee of the Assam Legislative Assembly has observed that accidental cases are increasing in the tea estate factories, causing massive injuries to many factory labourers, and urged companies to urgently tackle the issue. Meanwhile, the case against James Finlay Kenya by 1,000 tea pickers who claim to have suffered musculoskeletal injuries from operating harvesting machines is ongoing, with claimants calling for the case to be heard in Finlays’ Scottish base as they say justice would not be possible in Kenya.

WAGES: CBA updated amid continued wage struggles 

Tea estate managers and workers in India’s Darjeeling and Kamalpur regions are engaged in a vicious cycle of non-payment of wages and benefits, leading to strikes and go-slows by frustrated workers, which in turn is further hampering production and thus the companies’ ability to pay their dues.
Meanwhile in Kenya, one trade union has successfully negotiated and updated CBA for workers on Eastern Produce Kenya estates, whie another is calling on multinational firms to review workers’ terms of service and for more laws to be implemented to outlaw the outsourcing of labour. 

SMALLHOLDERS: Greater organisation for smallholder tea farmers 

The Indian smallholder tea sector is starting to see greater organisation as a national committee is formed for Indian smallholder tea farmers as “an informal platform for exchange of ideas and deliberations on the status of the industry, its challenges and solutions.” The legal status of a number of formerly unauthorised plantations is being recognised in order to protect the many labourers and stakeholders involved in tea production. Workers on smallholder tea farms will also now be eligible to equal pay with those on larger estates. And Kenyan smallholder tea farmers are to benefit from a reduction in the management fee paid to KTDA.

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Weather extremes impacting tea across continents

Tea planters in Tripura are witnessing a “shortage” in production due to a prolonged dry spell in the northeastern state with “falling” prices of the crop creating pressure on margins, stakeholders said on Sunday… “There is no support price for tea from the government as provided for paddy. This system prevails in the whole country,” Saha said. Big planters can manage the loss up to some extent, but small growers are facing difficulties to deal with the situation, he said. (Deccan Herald, 23rd April)

Tea planters in Darjeeling are facing a double whammy with a prolonged dry spell along with relatively high temperatures in the hills of West Bengal resulting in a “crop shortage” in the ongoing first flush season, coupled with “soft demand” in view of geo-political tension arising out of the Russia-Ukraine war, stakeholders said… Due to adverse weather conditions, wilting of tea leaves and pest attacks on bushes are also noticed, planters said… Productivity of garden workers has also been adversely impacted as they have been finding it difficult to accustom to heat conditions, he said. (Republic World, 21st April)

Heavy rain and a thunderstorm lashed the Kangra valley [Himachal Pradesh]…, causing damage to wheat, fruit and vegetable crops. While the lower areas received heavy rain, upper Dhauladhars received snow… At present, the state government doesn’t have any mechanism in place to compensate farmers for the crop loss due to vagaries of weather. The only mechanism available to the farmers is the crop insurance scheme of the Union Government, but very few farmers have opted for it due to small landholdings….  The rain and thunderstorm have also put tea growers in worry. According to tea farmer Amandeep Singh, plucking of leaves is going on these days. Heavy rain and thunderstorm have damaged the green buds of tea that were ready for plucking. It would affect the yield, he said. (Tribune India, 19th April)

The tea gardens of Terai and Dooars in North Bengal are facing a severe heatwave, which is affecting the production of the second flush. The extreme heat has caused extensive damage to the tea bushes, leading to a significant drop in the yield. Plantation workers are also facing the wrath of a sweltering summer with top tier tea leaves infected by seasonal insects leading companies to run at extensive loss. (India Today, 20th April)

Meanwhile, The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) has said tea factories in Mt. Kenya region have lost an estimated 100 million kilograms due to dry weather that has affected most parts of the country. (KBC, 17th April)

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Tackling sexual discrimination and abuse

Improving detection of gender issues

Even though women represent the majority of the workforce in global supply chains, the specific needs of women and issues they face are rarely integrated into key focus areas of social audits. A pilot project was commissioned by Coop and Tesco, supported by Sedex, and undertaken by Partner Africa, [it] enhanced and adapted Sedex’s SMETA social auditing methodology to improve the detection of real and potential gender issues in the workplace… data showed that the number of gender findings increased six-fold, compared to the standard SMETA audit. Such findings included, evidence of pregnancy testing prior to employment, health and safety risks to pregnant women, and poor gender representation in worker committees. Beyond its gender findings, the project also provided a better contextual picture of businesses’ capacity to address gender inequalities. This pilot project has proven that gender-sensitive social audits can meaningfully contribute to highlighting women’s vulnerabilities in global supply chains, and acts as a first step for creating an environment in which gender issues can be addressed effectively and sustainably. (Ethical Trading Initiative, 4th April)

Human rights defenders question Onyango suicide verdict

Human rights defenders have called for thorough investigations into the death of their Nakuru-based colleague Godfrey Onyango. Onyango was a key figure in the sexual abuse cases against tea farm managers of two multinationals in Kericho and Bomet counties. He was found dead in his house in Lanet, Nakuru on March 24. An autopsy conducted on March 27 cited suicide. Onyango was the chairman of the Justice and Environment Foundation based in Nakuru. “As we condole with the family, we call for an immediate thorough and credible investigation by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) with the timely publication of the findings,” the group said. The Defenders Coalition, an alliance of human rights defenders in Kenya, expressed reservations on Tuesday over the death. “Onyango having expressed reluctance to be quoted in one of the investigative stories by a local daily in Kenya point to the threats he likely received that require consideration during the investigations,” the group said. The Defenders Coalition expressed concern over the safety of human rights defenders in the country over the last five years. (The Star, 28th March)

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The cost-price imbalance of tea 

Producers struggle with rising costs & stagnant prices 

[In addition to crop losses, tea farmers are also struggling to cover production costs] Sumedha Das, owner of Shova tea estate [in Tripura] said, “In 2013, the cash component of a labourer’s wage was Rs 58 per day besides free rations and shelter. A worker’s wage has been increased to Rs 176 per day in addition to other incentives. The price of coal rose to Rs 20 per kg as compared to Rs 13 per kg three years ago. But the selling price of tea is not increasing.” (Deccan Herald, 23rd April)

Impact of low wages and high costs on tea workers’ children

Parents across Sri Lanka are feeling the pinch of the country’s worst economic crisis that began early last year, which has affected access to education for their children, but those like Nishanthini’s parents who live on tea estates, where wages have historically been poor, have been hit the hardest. The crisis led to soaring food and fuel prices and a depreciation of the rupee that reduced real income by almost half… Sithiran Rajan, the headmaster at Norwood Tamil Maha Vidyalayam, where almost all the students are from estates, says about 30 per cent of them do not get three meals a day… “It’s not just food expenses that parents have to take care of, they also have to pay for tuition and for clothes and other basic expenses. They don’t have an adequate salary to account for the increase in prices. So they can’t look after their children’s basic needs.”.. Although a bailout from the International Monetary Fund has provided Sri Lanka a pathway to economic recovery, the impact is unlikely to be felt for a while by its citizens, who are currently facing the austerity measures of high taxes and higher energy tariffs imposed to meet the IMF’s conditions. Meanwhile, children on the tea estates are facing the same fate as their parents, trapped in a cycle of generational poverty. (The National News, 31st March) For more information on how Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and the resulting rampant inflation is impacting on tea workers and farmers, see this report from DNA India News, Sept 26th 2022 

Is a floor price the answer?

The tea industry has urged the Centre for declaration of floor price for green leaf and other varieties, with planters in West Bengal facing stagnating prices and increasing financial stress, the Indian Tea Association (ITA) said. The introduction of a floor price would be an immediate solution to address the “unremunerative price” of tea without any additional cost to the government, it said. (Outlook India, 26th April)  However, commentators in this LinkedIn thread warn that a floor price could have the opposite to the desired effect because it will drive up supply of tea at higher cost with no guaranteed corresponding increase in demand, which will in the long run further depress market prices. Instead they urge producers to focus on quality and for government to take over provision of housing, healthcare and other basic needs.

Meanwhile, smallholder farmers attached to Kenya Tea Development Agency are still grappling with high withdrawals of their produce at the auction as buyers keep off expensive beverages for cheaper ones. In the latest auction, 44 percent of KTDA teas that were offered for sale were withdrawn after buyers kept off because of the minimum price that has made the commodity expensive in the market. (Business Daily Africa, 3rd April)

How would a price rise impact tea consumption?

In a Slowing Economy, Tea Outsells Other Beverages: “…consumers consider tea a necessity. They do not consider tea a luxury, and that’s not just here in Canada — that’s across the globe,” [Shabnam Weber, president of the Tea & Herbal Association of Canada] explained, citing EMI Market Research data on the one-year price elasticity of beverages. EMI assigned tea an elasticity value of negative 0.14%. What does that mean? “If the price of tea increases by 1%, all things being equal, the growth rate will decline by only 0.14%,” she said. She noted Nielsen consumer research data showing that shoppers cut back on “wants” rather than necessities. And tea is seen as a need. (STiR, 5th April)

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Strategies for tackling tea’s economic crisis


Tea farmers in Gatundu South have received Sh855,000 grants from the Kenya Tea Development Agency Foundation so they can diversify their farming for increased earnings. KTDA, in partnership with Ekaterra, launched the grants programme that is targeting one million smallholder farmers, families and tea pickers at Theta tea factory.  Nine farmer groups comprising 212 growers received the grants that aim to help them start other economically viable projects that help them generate income. (The Star, 27th March)

Fairtrade… and the International Trade Centre (ITC), the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, recently announced an expanded partnership aimed at helping farmers and agricultural workers to diversify and access new markets, achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and strive towards Agenda 2030. The expanded partnership… will now see both organizations accelerate work in promoting greater sustainability among farmers and agricultural workers across the globe, enabling them to participate more in global trade. (World Tea News, 24th March)

Repurposing tea land

Kenya: The Nandi County government plans to establish an industrial park in the tea-growing zone to address economic challenges resulting from the mechanisation of the tea industry. Nandi Agriculture Executive Kiplimo Lagat said the county has engaged with tea companies to address the long-standing economic challenges affecting residents for the past two decades.“When the tea-picking machines were introduced by multinational tea factories, the residents working in tea estates were sacked. We are reaching out to the firms to jointly offer land in a strategic location for the government to implement projects that will provide a long-term economic solution,” said Dr Kiplimo. (Standard Media, 21st April)

India: [West Bengal Industry and Commerce Minister Shashi] Panja stated at an MCCI event on April 12 evening that the state government had taken over a piece of the property that cannot be used for cultivation. It would be marketed for tourism purposes at the tea gardens of New Chumta (in the Darjeeling foothills) and Raydak (Jalpaiguri). She also stated that the area would be used to promote homestays and low-cost accommodation for tea garden employees. In addition to the Amritsar-Dankuni freight corridor, the minister stated that 8,000 acres of non-agricultural land had been selected for the development of a variety of companies. (Krishijagran, 14th April)

Increased productivity

A lack of manpower in its tea estates is among the reasons for Tamil Nadu Tea Plantation Corporation (TANTEA) to incur losses. The government is taking measures to improve productivity, Minister for Forests M. Mathiventhan said in the Assembly on Friday. According to the norms of the United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI), 1.75 workers have to be engaged for collecting tea leaves for one hectare. “Going by this norm, we need to have about 6,000 workers, but we have only 3,800 workers and 180 officials,” he said. Listing the measures being taken to improve the productivity of the estates, the Minister said steps were being taken to find out the soil nutrient status and a business analytical study, being conducted by a private company, was in the final stage of preparation. (The Hindu, 1st April)

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Local recruitment and local markets

Kenya: ekaterra tea company has become the first multinational company to hire local residents yielding to the recommendations of a tea task force formed by governor Eric Mutai to review the firm’s operation in the county. In one of its advertisements, ekaterra states that it seeks to recruit a total of 650 contract workers at Kapkwen estate. A similar exercise will be conducted in the company’s three other estates, whereby the company will recruit machine harvesters operators, carpenters masons and painters. (KTN News, 27th March

A tea factory in Gatanga Constituency, Murang’a County, has started packaging its products to penetrate the local market. Ngere tea factory is focusing on increasing local consumption of tea in an effort to reduce its reliance on the export market. Under the leadership of Prof Joseph Karanja and James Githinji, the factory has embarked on packaging its produce and reducing the consignment transported for auction by 200 metric tonnes… [Githinji] said they are exploring fresh markets in South Sudan, Congo, and other African countries. He said the payments for tea in the local market are better than those offered at the auction market. (Standard Media, 17th April)

(More) government intervention

Nepal’s tea industry is worth Rs8 billion annually, and tea is one of its largest exports. But the sector which provides jobs to nearly 100,000 Nepalis is mired in myriad problems, mostly related to the government’s export policy, insiders say… “We are not promoting our product and we are losing money,” said Suresh Mittal, president of the Tea Producers Association. “There are many problems—starting from fertiliser to export. We have been telling our problems to the government for years, but no one is listening to us.” Many small tea producers have switched to other crops due to the state’s unfriendly tea policy, insiders say. (Kathmandu Times, 21st April)

Meanwhile, in Myanmar, [l]ocal farmers are calling for a ban on Chinese tea imports into Myanmar. They say that’s the only way to raise the price for domestic tea. (Radio Free Asia, 4th April).

– Technology to enhance tea production and marketing

In recent years, high-tech power and meteorological equipment have been installed near tea plantations to collect weather data and monitor the yield and quality of Longjing tea trees [in east China‘s Zhejiang Province]. “We collect data including air temperature and humidity, wind direction, rainfall and atmospheric pressure. The data is sent back to our system in real time. It will offer detailed reference for tea plantation management to improve the quality of the tea,” said Ni Yong, deputy director of marketing at Zhejiang Evotrue Net Technology Co. Now companies are working together to combine technologies such as 5G, AI and Block Chain to support agricultural production. “We use block chain technology to ensure production, sales and traceability of all Longjing tea…” (CGTN, 4th April)

A ground-breaking project on drone-based soil and plant health analysis has been given a grant by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) of the Government of India to drone-tech company IG Drones in order to increase the sustainability and productivity of tea gardens. The initiative… aims to transform the way tea is grown, advance environmental sustainability, and stimulate socioeconomic growth in the area. (Outlook, 26th April)

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Fatalities and injuries in fields and factories 

 There have been several more leopard attacks on tea workers and their families in India this month. A 27-year-old migrant worker was injured in an attack by a leopard in a tea estate in Valparai.. . This is the second consecutive incident, as only on [the day before] a young migrant woman came under attack by a leopard in the same estate. (DT Next, 22nd April) . The Forest Department placed camera traps on the tea estate to track the animal. (The Hindu, 21st April)  [Meanwhile, at Tamulbari Tea Estate in Dibrugarh, Assam, another woman] tea worker was attacked by a leopard while plucking tea… (Sentinel Assam, 27th April). Gopal Das, 42, suffered injuries on an ear and the shoulder [after] A leopard pounced [him] and mauled him while he was weeding a tea garden in Jalpaiguri district. He has been admitted to Jalpaiguri Medical College and Hospital. (Telegraph India, 20th April) The death of a 7-year old boy on another tea estate in the district earlier in the week is also suspected to be the result of a leopart attack. (Hindustan Times, 25th April)  

[The Departmentally Related Standing Committee of the Assam Legislative Assembly has] observed that accidental cases are increasing in the tea estate factories, causing massive injuries to many factory labourers. The committee, therefore, recommended that the department take adequate measures to stop such incidents in tea estate factories at the earliest possible time. The Committee also recommended that the Department make a sudden visit to the factories during their running time in the tea estates to look after the conditions and safety measures of the working labour. (Sentinel Assam, 23rd April)

More than 1,000 tea pickers who claim to have suffered health complications while working at James Finlay Kenya (JFK) Limited want their case heard in the United Kingdom. They claim to have suffered health complications due to alleged harsh and exploitative working conditions at the Scottish tea farm. After two weeks of hearing submissions from the company, the workers’ lawyers and legal experts, Lord Weir of the Scotland Court Session, will decide on the matter in a few weeks. The tea pickers, who claim they suffered musculoskeletal injuries that affect the bones, muscles, ligaments, nerves, or tendons, argue they took the case to Scotland because it was almost impossible for them to get justice in Kenya. (The Saturday Standard, 3rd April)

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CBA updated amid continued wage struggles 

Trade union calls for end to ‘rampant casualisation’ of tea workers

India: The North Bengal Tea Plantation Employees Union (NBTPEU) has demanded that the state government resolve pending issues regarding the salary scale of monthly-rated employees as per Clause-11 of the tripartite agreement signed on 5 July 2022… The NBTPEU [is] also… demanding Additional Employment (Naya Ganti) as per the tripartite settlement signed on 21 July 1999 in order to appoint staff and sub-staff in posts which are still laying vacant. The union has also urged a halt to “rampant casualization” of tea workers and demanded that planters should regularise the “voucher bigha” workers as traditional “bigha” (casual) workers. The union has further demanded up-gradation of daily rated workers in their duties as monthly-rated employees by ensuring equal pay for equal work in the tea industry in North Bengal. (The Statesman, 17th April)

Vicious cycle of non-payment of wages and strikes 

The management of Rongmook Ceder Tea Estate… Darjeeling, declared a lockout in the garden…, complaining of absence of proper work culture…  The workers of the garden have been on an agitation path since April 15. The daily wage workers of the Rongmook Ceder Tea Estate have not been receiving their wages for the past two fortnights and the staff and sub staff salary for the past 3 months… the owner of the garden stated: “The workers are not allowing us to transport ready tea from the garden. How will we pay the workers?”(Millennium Post, 24th April)

Over one thousand families dependent on Ramdurlavpur Tea Estate in Kamalpur are facing a serious crisis as… the wages of the workers and Babustaff are not being paid. Uncertainty is prevailing over the future of the garden that is going to complete its hundredth year after two years in 2025. Apart from wages, it is learned that the pending amount to the Provident Fund is more than Rs 75 lakhs while the GST is pending about Rs 60 lakhs and the electricity bills also pending about Rs 70 lakhs. (Tripura Info, 21st April)

Trade unions call for change and negotiate CBA

Kenya plantation and agricultural workers union and COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli are urging multinational firms ekattera tea and the Kenya tea growers association to review workers terms of service or have the workers through their union engage in strikes as the last resort, Atwoli said that the unions efforts to negotiate on behalf of workers had not borne fruit for three years after signing the 2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Atwoli also called for more laws to be implemented to outlaw outsourcing of labour  in such firms in order to reduce cases of hard labour and allegations of slavery. (Citizen TV Kenya, 19th April – video)

More than 6,000 unionisable workers at tea-growing firms associated with Eastern Produce Kenya (EPK) are set to enjoy an enhanced pay package. This is after the sealing of an updated Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU). The workers at the Nandi County-based EPK firms have secured an eight per cent backdated general wage increase for the year 2022. (The Star, 21st April)

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Greater organisation for smallholder tea farmers 

National committee formed for Indian smallholder tea farmers

The Tea Board of India recently formed a nine-member core committee to address the issues of small tea growers. The country has around 2.5 lakh small tea growers, who together, contribute close to 52 per cent of the total production in the country… Under existing rules of the tea board, a grower owning a plantation area of less than 10.12 hectares with no processing unit is classified ‘small’…Now the committee would be an informal platform for exchange of ideas and deliberations on the status of the industry, its challenges and solutions. The director of tea development is the committee secretary and convener. The other eight members are representatives of small tea growers’ associations of tea-producing areas like north Bengal, Assam, Nilgiri, and Kangra. The Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers (Cista), the national body of small growers, has also been included in the committee. (Bizzbuzz News, 24th April)

Equal pay for smallholder farm workers

As the Trinamool Congress-led state government, after enactment of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act 2000, has finally decided to recognise plantation of tea in new areas after 30 June 2001, Minister in Charge of Labour Department Moloy Ghatak has said that tea workers associated with Small Tea Gardens (STG) will be getting the daily-rated wages similar to those in registered tea gardens (RTG). (The Statesman, April 15th)

‘Legalization’ of small tea farms

The West Bengal government has issued an order by which all new agricultureal areas which were converted into ‘unauthorised’ tea plantation from June 30, 2001 to November 7, 2017 will now get a legal status to protect “the interest of the large numbers of labourers, stakeholders involved in such tea gardens”. With this order, the small tea grower and ‘project’ tea gardens will now get formal land certificates for tea plantations. In a rough estimate, over 50,000 small tea gardens (below 25 acres) and nearly 3,000 projects (above 25 acres) hae been holding nearly 45,000 hectares of land while over two million people of north Bengal are directly or indirectly involved with this segment in the state. (Times of India, 12th April)

Reduction of KTDA management fee

Kenya Tea Development Agency Management Services Limited (KTDA MS Ltd), a wholly owned subsidiary of KTDA Holdings Limited, has commenced negotiations to review management agreements for smallholder tea factories… The reviewed management agreement is a paradigm shift from the current agreement and after implementation, it is expected to remedy the relationship between the parties and improve the management of tea factories for the benefit of tea farmers. Among key changes in the reviewed management agreement include reduction of management fee from the current 2.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent of farmers’ sale. This will see KTDA lose more than half a billion in earnings. (The Star, 21st April)

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