Please contact THIRST if you know of other relevant reports or initiatives that should be included in this collection.
This collection of resources is provided here purely in a spirit of sharing views and experience and does not imply endorsement by THIRST. Descriptions are taken from the documents themselves, or from the relevant organisation’s website.
Verité provides this well-sourced web page, including details of reported child and forced labour in several tea producing countries, and explores what trafficking and/or child labor look like in the production of tea, and what governments, corporations, and others are doing to address the issue.
A Matter of Life and Death: Surviving Childbirth on Assam’s tea plantations – Nazdeek 2018 (See Women for more details)
Around 244,500 households comprising a total population of 966,700, live in Sri Lanka’s plantation sector. Of the existing housing stock, around 160,000 (or 65 percent) were categorised in 2005 as obsolete and non-upgradable housing (generally being ‘line-rooms’ and temporary sheds); and that estimate was reaffirmed in 2015. This type of housing is urgently in need of reconstruction for the humane and hygienic living conditions of their residents. In fact, the main demand of the plantation community today, is for adequate shelter and the right to housing, land and property. This Briefing Paper looks at the historical background to the reasons for the housing crisis in the plantation sector; a brief overview of housing programmes since the privatisation of the plantations in the early 1990’s, as well as earlier advocacy in this are by the Institute of Social Development. Section 4 presents and interprets the findings of a socio-economic survey on housing rights in the plantations, conducted by the ISD in 2015 and finally summarises its main findings and makes a number of recommendations for enjoyment of the right to housing, land and property of the Plantation community.
The main factor driving modern slavery within the tea industry in Bangladesh is the extreme marginalisation of tea garden workers, who are mostly descendants of migrants from India, by wider society. Social and economic exclusion mean workers have no alternative to working under highly exploitative conditions in the tea industry. The review found considerable literature on the working conditions of tea workers, but little on the wider context of their position in society, attention to the plight of tea workers in policy-making, or the macro-economic and political pressures to sustain modern slavery in Bangladesh’s tea gardens.
Families struggling to feed themselves due to low wages take their children out of school to work on the plantations and earn money. Human traffickers pose as employment agents and entice young people to migrate to cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Agra – or groom parents to send their children to the cities on the promise of a new and better life. Children are often targeted by traffickers, since parents are often forced to send their daughters for work outside the plantations in order to bring in enough money to live. The children are often taken to new lives as very poorly paid labourers in factories or trafficked into the sex industry. “They are kept as slaves, their wages are withheld and taken by their placement agency or supplier, their employers are told not to pay them directly because if they do the girls will run away”, explains Rama Shankar Chaurasia, Chair of Indian child rights group Bachpan Bachao Andolan
The two-year Global Business of Forced Labour study investigated the business models of forced labour in global tea and cocoa supply chains. Forced labour is work brought about by physical, psychological or economic coercion. Extensive on-the-ground research with the cocoa industry in Ghana and the tea industry in India revealed agricultural workers are paid severely low wages and are routinely subjected to multiple forms of exploitation. The project involved in-depth interviews with more than 120 tea and cocoa workers, a survey of over 1,000 tea and cocoa workers from 22 tea plantations in India and 74 cocoa communities in Ghana, and over 100 interviews with business and government actors.
As one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of tea, India’s tea industry employs more than 1,2 million people. Two regions, Assam and West Bengal, together produce over 70% of India’s tea and are also home to the worst working conditions for tea plantation workers in the country. This report is the outcome of a fact finding mission conducted in the aforementioned regions on behalf of the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition (GNRTFN). It investigates and analyses allegations of serious abuses of human rights on India’s tea plantations, in particular how poor working conditions undermine the human right to food and nutrition and related rights.
[I]t can be estimated that roughly 200 million agricultural workers are chronically undernourished… Several factors have worsened the situation for plantation workers over the last twenty years… The impact of market dynamics on the working conditions of [tea] plantation workers and how this in turn leads to a violation of their right to food is examined in detail in the section on the tea sector. This sector is characterized by the concentration of market power and in particular by a very strong vertical integration, with three companies controlling 80% of global tea trade. Two of these companies (Unilever and Tata) are also the main tea packers and thus cover the most profitable segments of the chain (apart from retail). Sourcing costs for packers and retailers have gone down in the last decades. For producers, downward price pressure of plantation crops, rising oil prices and in some countries the depreciation of the US dollar against their local currencies made the tea business difficult.
A large range of grievance mechanisms are available in the tea sector and one of the questions examined in this case is why so few grievances have been brought through transnational non-judicial grievance mechanisms. A key focus is therefore on barriers of access to redress, including entrenched informal barriers based on the structure of social relations and organisation at the local level. The case study also examines the operation of formal transnational complaint handling mechanisms including the Rainforest Alliance certification system and the International Finance Corporation’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (‘CAO’), and their interaction with local grievance mechanisms operated by government, trade unions or plantation management. Where transnational grievance mechanisms have been used, their relatively weak leverage has meant that they have had little impact on facilitating individual remedy. However, where involvement of transnational non-judicial grievance mechanisms has provided visibility, legitimacy or other forms of indirect support to organising grassroots workers, the case suggests that engagement with these mechanisms can sometimes have a small, positive effect on reinforcing wider pressures for improvements to working and living conditions in the sector.
German importers are of central importance for tea producers in Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal, northern India. Companies such as the Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft (OTG), Teekampagne, TeeGschwendner, and others purchase roughly a quarter of the region’s yearly tea output. In addition, they are the most important buyers of the early tea harvests (first flush and second flush), which command the highest prices. Hamburg is Europe’s central shipping terminal for tea, with almost half of all tea imports into Germany re-exported out of Germany at a high price. The price margins along the tea supply chain from Darjeeling to Germany are extremely disparate. A calculation by a German tea importer in the top price bracket (market segment A) for loose-leaf tea shows that only around 30 percent of the shelf price remains in India, with a maximum of 22 percent making it to the company that operates the plantation. The tea pluckers receive the equivalent of between 1.4 percent and 2.8 percent of the tea’s retail price in Germany.
Reports by civil society organisations… have highlighted the issue of low wages and excessive working hours in the supply chains of a range of commodities and manufactured items, including tea. They argue that corporate compliance programmes and product certification schemes have achieved only limited reach to the root causes of supply chain problems, including low wages, and many have called for a Living Wage for workers… Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), a not-for-profit member organization of tea companies committed to improving the lives of tea workers and their environment, initiated a project in 2010 to increase understanding of wages in the tea sector, and to use this as a basis for constructive dialogue in the future.
Water and Sanitation
The IUF reports that “workers and their families on tea estates in India owned and operated by Amalgamated Plantation Private Limited that supplies Tetley tea have limited access to potable drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities… workers, especially women workers, have formed committees in each plantation. For the past 2 years the committees have held meetings to educate workers on the human right to water and sanitation. Through consultation with workers they have formulated a concrete plan to put to the management and collectively negotiate solutions.” It calls on Tetley: “1. To recognize their responsibility and act to ensure that all tea plantation workers in their supply chain can effectively access their right to water and sanitation, and 2. To guarantee that the plantation management engages with the water and sanitation teams in good faith to resolve the human rights violations.”
Adivasi (indigenous) women in Assam, northeast India face multiple barriers to combating anemia and accessing adequate maternal health care, according to a report released by Nazdeek. Various government interventions meant to combat anemia are insufficient and unsuccessful in reaching the women they are intended to serve. The report sheds lights on the multiple gaps in the implementation of government health interventions meant to decrease anemia and maternal mortality on tea plantations in Assam – where the majority of tea workers are Adivasi. These women face multiple layers of oppression and exploitation, and are unable to realize their right to safe motherhood.
This [case study is part of] … a comparative analysis of initiatives to achieve progress towards gender equity in agricultural value chains… co-ordinated by Banana Link and Women Working Worldwide [to] inform further work to ensure the respect of the rights of women workers and producers. There are a number of examples of good practice from Finlays ranging from the appointment of a Gender Empowerment Manager to the development of a Gender Equality and Diversity (GED) Policy, to proactive recruitment procedures and specific training and support for women to be qualified for ‘male’ jobs. Underpinning all their work on gender is their Gender Equality and Diversity Policy.
In this creative, ethnographic, and historical critique of labor practices on an Indian plantation, Piya Chatterjee provides a sophisticated examination of the production, consumption, and circulation of tea. A Time for Tea reveals how the female tea-pluckers seen in advertisements—picturesque women in mist-shrouded fields—came to symbolize the heart of colonialism in India. Chatterjee exposes how this image has distracted from terrible working conditions, low wages, and coercive labor practices enforced by the patronage system.
Tea cultivation and production are facing climate-related challenges which need to be addressed. The problem is so severe and widespread that in January 2012, a Consultation on Climate Change and Its Implication on the World Tea Economy was held in Sri Lanka, where it was agreed to submit a proposal to create a Working Group on Climate Change to the 20th Session of the IGG/Tea, where it was endorsed… This compilation of adaptation strategies for tea cultivation developed and practiced by major tea growing countries of the world, is the first step taken by the working group on climate change of the FAO-IGG on tea to minimize climate change impacts on tea plantations. It is a joint effort by the scientists of Tea Research Institute of India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and China supported by the FAO-IGG on tea in Rome. This documentation is mainly targeted at tea planting community, policy makers and other users such as researchers, national and international research institutes and multilateral organizations dealing with sustainable tea cultivation, development and livelihood security of dependents.
Tea plays a significant role in rural development, poverty reduction and food security in developing countries and is one of the most important cash crops in the world. Climate change is an important environmental issue and impacts greatly tea on growth and production as tea is mainly grown under rain-fed mono-cropping systems and weather conditions determine optimal growth…
Changes in climate have socio-economic impacts on the tea estates and plantations themselves as they must deal with meeting additional expenses to maintain production which cannot be addressed by increasing tea prices, if they want to compete in the international tea market. Some of the issues these estates have had to deal with in recent years include:
• erosion of top soil due to uncharacteristic heavy rainfall patterns, which has a negative impact on production;
• increased use of fertilizers to maintain soil fertility;
• increased usage of pesticides, particularly during the dry season, as tea gardens are increasingly being damaged by pests that were dormant in the past; and
• addressing longer dry seasons and heavier rains, some tea estates, especially in India, have begun using irrigation systems to increase yields. The increased use of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as building and maintaining irrigation systems have significantly increased the cost of production…
The increasing cost of mitigating climate change has begun to impact social facilities in estates raising some serious socio-economic issues related to working conditions on tea plantations that are critical in most producing countries.