South Asia Resources

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. Please contact THIRST if you know of other relevant reports or initiatives that should be included in this collection.

Bangladesh | India | Sri Lanka



A Study Report on Working Conditions of Tea Plantation Workers in Bangladesh – ILO, 2016

This study was conducted to generate new and updated knowledge and empirical evidence, using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, on the working conditions of tea plantation workers. It is expected that the findings will be useful in order to identify issues and implement appropriate responses to ensure that tea plantation workers fully enjoy fundamental principles and rights at work, safe working conditions and fair remuneration, without discrimination based on ethnicity, identity, social origin, disability or other grounds. It is anticipated that the findings will therefore be useful to ensure decent and productive work for tea plantation workers.

While Bangladesh has made commendable progress in all aspects of millennium development goals between 1992 to 2015, for example reduced extreme poverty from 70.2% to 35.1%, increased primary school enrolment from 60.5% to 100%, child mortality reduced from 146 to 48, maternal mortality reduced from 5.74 to 1.43 per thousand live birth (Planning Commission, 2015), gross disparity still exists in tea garden areas. Tea garden labourers are among those who are usually excluded from a number of government services with a view that they should be cared for by tea garden authorities. The tea garden authorities have the responsibility to ensure housing, safe water, sanitation, medical and educational facilities for the tea garden labourers and their families but these are not practiced fully by the authorities.

The Story of Tea Workers in Bangladesh, Philip Gain, 2009

This book is about the tea plantation workers in Bangladesh. However, the genesis of tea cultivation in what is now Bangladesh, its growth, ownership, rights of the tea workers and their struggle for legitimate demands, the use of land granted for tea cultivation and different trends have also been featured to help understand the conditions in which the indentured tea plantation workers have been confined. The laborers who keep the tea industry alive are not locals. The British companies brought them from different States of India about 150 years back. These workers belonging to many ethnic identities cleared jungles, planted and tended tea saplings, planted shade trees, and built luxurious bungalows for the tea planters. But they had their destiny tied to their huts in the ‘labor lines’ that they built themselves. They continue to remain as people without choice and entitlement to property.

Also available in Bangla.

Modern slavery within the tea industry in Bangladesh – K4D Helpdesk Report, 2018

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.


Equalitea – Small Tea Growers Programme, Traidcraft

Our EqualiTEA programme works with smallholder tea growing families living in rural and often very isolated areas. Through a combination of technical training, encouraging tea growers to work together and providing a vital support network, the project team are working hard to transform lives and make the tea sector profitable for even the most disadvantaged farming families.
We’ve been working to expand our work in India and keep reaching more smallholder tea growers. In Bangladesh our work is more pioneering – tea growing is relatively new to Bangladeshi farmers and there is a growing domestic market. We initially set up around
1,000 new tea growers in Bangladesh, but we’re now expanding the programme to help even more smallholder farmers earn a fair income in the tea sector. This programme is benefiting about 170,000 people.


Human Rights in Assam Tea Estates – The long view – THIRST, February 2020

A review of eight documents spanning 15 years of the Assam tea industry by leading organisations including Columbia Law School, the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition, Oxfam, SOMO, Traidcraft and War on Want. The reports draw on primary research and/or wider literature reviews including local academic studies and historical documents, dating back to 1866.

Four issues emerge repeatedly: wages, housing, sanitation and health. The review highlights a set of common recommendations for governments, retailers, producers, certification bodies and consumers to tackle these problems. This document may therefore be used as the basis for discussion by civil society organisations to agree – in consultation with tea workers and their representatives – a common set of recommendations to the tea industry and relevant governments, calling for change that will defend the rights of tea workers in Assam and beyond.

A Bitter Cup: The exploitation of tea workers in India and Kenya supplying British supermarkets – War on Want and IUF, 2010

The tea industry is a booming global business. With 3.5 million tons of tea produced each year – including 1.6 million tons for export – tea harvesting is an important source of income for millions of workers across the globe. India and Kenya are two of the world’s top four tea-producing nations, earning hundreds of millions of pounds in exports each year. But in spite of the massive revenues tea sales generate, workers who pick and pack the leaves face horrendous conditions and earn far below a living wage. This report is a contribution to War on Want’s ongoing campaign for corporate accountability and Unite the Union’s campaign for the fair treatment of all workers employed by businesses in supermarkets’ supply chains.The report exposes the poverty wages, poor working conditions and desperate insecurity of workers in Kenya and India who produce the tea sold in British supermarkets. Shockingly, these conditions have not improved since War on Want’s groundbreaking report into the tea sector in Sri Lanka almost 40 years ago.

Addressing the Human Cost of Assam Tea: An Agenda for Change to protect, respect and fulfil human rights on Assam tea plantations – Oxfam 2019

For every kilogram of packaged Assam tea that is sold, tea brands and supermarkets take a sizable cut – up to 95% in some cases – while a marginal proportion – less than 5% ‒ remains on tea estates to pay workers. These inequalities in how the share of the end consumer price of tea is distributed contribute to poverty and suffering for the women and men on Assam tea estates, while driving a sustainability crisis for the wider tea industry in parts of India. Women bear the heaviest burden of systemic inequality, as they are concentrated in the lowest paid plucking roles and also shoulder most of the unpaid domestic care work. Meanwhile, plantation owners claim that laws making them responsible for housing, healthcare and education of workers and their dependents are challenging to implement – and therefore not effectively executed.

Oxfam’s new research shows that the solutions lie in a fairer sharing of the end consumer price of tea, stronger gender policies and a review of plantation labour laws to ensure that women and men in Assam can lead dignified lives.

A life without dignity: the price of your cup of tea – Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition – 2016

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.

A Matter of Life and Death: Surviving Childbirth on Assam’s tea plantations – Nazdeek 2018

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.

A Time for Tea: Women, Labor, and Post/Colonial Politics on an Indian Plantation – Piya Chatterjee, Duke University Press 2001

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.

Certified Unilever Tea – A Cup Half Empty – India Committee of the Netherlands (now Arisa), 2016 

The report … provides evidence that working conditions at two Rainforest Alliance (RA) certified Indian tea estates providing tea to Unilever have improved but continue to be not ‘up to standard’, in particular for casual workers. Wages – between €3 and just over €4 – are far less than a living wage of around €7.50. Casualization of the workforce substantially increased, most of them migrants or retired permanent workers. They do not receive the same social benefits as permanent workers… The study is a follow-up to the SOMO-ICN 2011 report titled Certified Unilever Tea – Small Cup, Big Difference? [See below], which focused on working conditions on eight large RA certified tea estates assessing the effectiveness of RA standards in the field. In the SOMO-ICN 2011 report, several issues of systemic non-compliance with the RA standards were found at the eight examined tea estates. These were mainly related to casualization and unequal benefits for casual and permanent workers, lack of freedom of association, and the dangerous exposure to pesticides. This current study therefore focused specifically on these identified issues in two of the eight tea estates that were covered in the previous study – Havukal and Kairbetta tea estates in India – to assess whether working conditions have improved.

Can the Dalit woman speak? K Ravi Raman, Organization 2020, Volume 27(2) 272-290

Dr Ravi Raman explores in this paper the caste, class and gender dimensions of the Pempila Orumai uprising against male-dominated management, trade unions and politicians: “The case study involves both contemporary ethnographic and in-depth historical accounts sourced from the Dalit women’s protests at tea plantations in the south Indian state of Kerala in 2015 (along with pertinent secondary sources). The article explores how ‘self-organizing’ by the mis-organized, during the course of the struggle, turned them into active political subjects: a ‘subject position from which to speak’. Exposing certain theoretical constraints within the postcolonial approach and incorporating insights from deeper subjective aspects of the labour process, social reproduction in postcolonial perspectives, and the feminist literature on intersectionality as an integrative narrative, an attempt is made to supplement the postcolonial organization studies and open up the gateway to its advancement.”

Certified Unilever Tea Small Cup, Big Difference? SOMO-ICN, 2011

For this study one hundred tea workers were interviewed on a total of eight tea plantation companies, all supplying tea to Unilever. Seven of these plantations are located in India and the remaining plantation concerns Unilever’s own tea plantation in Kenya. It was found that working conditions on tea estates that supply Unilever are problematic despite having been certified by the sustainability standard system RA.

On all the RA certified estates in India there were issues with wages either including too few benefits or partly being paid in kind and not in cash. Also women workers are being discriminated against (promotion, benefits), many casual workers remain permanently casual and workers are applying pesticides without protective gear. Moreover, most of these issues constitute violations of Indian labour legislation and ILO standards as well as Unilever‟s own standards for suppliers. All of them are violations of RA standards and should lead to withdrawal of RA certification.

CAO Investigation of IFC Environmental and Social Performance in relation to: Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), India, 2019

In 2009, through a $7.8 million investment by the World Bank, Tata created Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (or APPL), affecting 30,000 tea plantation workers and their families. In response to workers’ reports of violations of wage and labour laws, restrictions on freedom of association, poor hygiene and health, hazardous conditions for pesticide sprayers, and concerns with the share program, three local NGOs – PAJHRA, PAD and DBSS – filed a complaint in 2013 with the World Bank’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) – the World Bank’s independent grievance office. This CAO web page provides the CAO’s 2016 report (following a three year investigation, confirming many of the workers’ complaints), responses from Tata and the IFC, and CAO’s 2019 monitoring report which finds that while some aspects of the companies’ action plans are on track serious concerns remain about workers’ health, well-being and rights. “The case remains open and CAO continues to monitor IFC’s actions to address the investigation findings. CAO expects to issue another monitoring report in the next year. ”

The darjeeling distinction: labor and justice on fair trade tea plantations in india Sarah Besky, 2014.  University of California Press

In this nuanced ethnography, Sarah Besky narrates the lives of tea workers in Darjeeling. She explores how notions of fairness, value, and justice shifted with the rise of fair-trade practices and postcolonial separatist politics in the region. This is the first book to explore how fair-trade operates in the context of large-scale plantations. Readers in a variety of disciplines—anthropology, sociology, geography, environmental studies, and food studies—will gain a critical perspective on how plantation life is changing as Darjeeling struggles to reinvent its signature commodity for twenty-first-century consumers. The Darjeeling Distinction challenges fair-trade policy and practice, exposing how trade initiatives often fail to consider the larger environmental, historical, and sociopolitical forces that shape the lives of the people they intended to support.

Fine Teas for Starvation Wages – Tea exports from Darjeeling to Germany – November 2019: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung

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.

Green Gold – The Empire of Tea Alan Macfarlane, Iris MacFarlane, Ebury Press 2003

Iris MacFarlane was the wife of a tea plantation manager in Assam in the 1950s. Green Gold begins with her account of life in Assam during this period, observations of the living and working conditions of workers on the tea estate, and the challenges to her attempts to improve them. The main book by her son, Alan, traces the history of tea, its links with the British Empire and its impact on those that grow, trade in, profit from and drink it. He quotes extensively from historical documents including first hand accounts from tea pioneers as far back as 1866.

Image result for Human Rights Grievance-Handling Systems in the Indian Tea SectorHuman Rights Grievance-Handling in the Indian Tea Sector – Corporate Accountability Research 2016

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.

Improving conditions in tea plantations in Assam Market Systems Action Research – ILO, Fairtrade Foundation, The Lab 2018

Embracing a market systems approach the analysis explores deficiencies in four market functions: the market for professional services, in particular covering labour productivity; the suppliers of equipment to plantations directly related to worker and resident quality of life, such as personal protective equipment and domestic products; the role of worker organisations on plantations; and access to information for plantation residents. Governing rules and regulations are particularly important to plantations in India and helped explain some of the challenges facing plantations. As such, the report explores four key elements of the enabling environment: the regulatory environment, and in particular the Plantation Labour Act; trade unions and collective bargaining platforms; sector business co-ordination; and certification schemes.

Not My Cup of Tea – Stop the Traffik, 2017

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.

Sustainability Issues in the Tea Sector – SOMO, 2008

In this report, SOMO is presenting for the first time ever a more detailed and comparative analysis on social, economic and ecological conditions in the tea sector in 6 of the most important tea-producing countries: India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Kenya and Malawi. The research is based on an extensive field study of civil society organisations in these countries, thus providing a unique perspective on this sector. The report also presents an overview of trade, production and stakeholders in international tea supply chains, and makes recommendations to various stakeholders for improving conditions, particularly for plantation workers and tea smallholders the most vulnerable in the tea industry.

The study found that working conditions for pickers are often poor, with low wages, low job and income security, discrimination along ethnic and gender lines, lack of protective gear and inadequate basic facilities such as housing and sometimes even drinking water and food. At the same time there is no possibility for tea plantation workers to improve working conditions because trade unions are ineffective or absent and/or are not representing them because most of them are temporary workers. While tea production by smallholders is growing worldwide, their situation is often problematic because the prices they are paid for fresh tea leaves tend to be below the cost of production, among other factors. The sector’s environmental footprint is considerable, with reduced biodiversity as the result of habitat conversion, high energy consumption (mainly using logged timber) and a high application of pesticides in some countries.

The Estate They’re in – How the tea industry traps women in poverty in Assam – Traidcraft Exchange, 2018

The owners of tea estates have a legal duty to provide ‘in kind’ benefits to their workforce including housing, schools and health facilities under Indian law, as well as a cash wage. But evidence gathered by researchers working for Traidcraft Exchange found that on estates that are believed to supply UK tea companies: A culture of surveillance and control by management goes unchecked; Wages – agreed across the Assam tea sector – are below Assam and Indian minimum wage levels; Housing is often leaky and in a state of disrepair; Sanitation is minimal or non-existent with open defaecation the norm when working; Local health facilities often lack medicines and staff and better ones are far away; Food rations are insufficient and of poor quality… As a first step [Traidcraft suggested] the big UK brands should be transparent about which estates they buy from. Publishing their list of suppliers would help open up the secretive world of tea-buying. It would shine a light on exploitation and mean that consumers – and more importantly women workers in Assam – could hold tea estates to account. Traidcraft’s Who picked my tea? campaign resulted in several major companies publishing their tea supply chains.

The Global Business of Forced Labour – Sheffield University 2018

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.

The more things change…The World Bank, Tata and Enduring Abuses on India’s Tea Plantations – Columbia Law School, Human Rights Institute 2014

The report is based on three years of research and visits to 17 out of 24 plantations and describes pervasive violations of workers’ rights on the plantations owned by Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd. (APPL) in the states of Assam and West Bengal, in India… The report assesses the claims of the workers against the standards of the Plantations Labour Act (PLA), India’s post-independence law that regulates working conditions on plantations and requires plantation owners to supplement meager wages with adequate housing, health care, and food rations, in addition to ensuring adequate water and sanitation.  The report documents failings on all fronts.

That’s Bitter, That’s Terrible – IUF report on lack of access to clean water on Tetley tea plantations in Assam, 2018

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.”


Towards an Alternative Indian Tea Economy. Examples of Producer Cooperatives from Darjeeling

The Indian tea economy is undergoing acute transformations, with the divestment of tea companies from plantations leaving thousands of plantation workers jobless, and small tea growers struggling with a general lack of knowledge and their dependency on bought leaf factories and intermediaries. A review of the current trends in the Indian tea market and two alternative sites in Darjeeling indicates the potential of solidary enterprises and also exposes the difficulties these groups face to emancipate themselves from the colonial-style tea companies.

Image result for understanding wage issues in the tea industry

Understanding Wage Issues in the Tea Industry – Oxfam 2013

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.

The study looked at India (Assam), Indonesia and Malawi.

Sri Lanka

Image result for a different cup of tea care internationalA Different Cup of Tea: The Business Case for Empowering Workers in the Sri Lankan Tea Sector – Care International 2013

Twenty-three tea estates partnering with CARE International Sri Lanka have successfully implemented Community Development Forums, which are ‘mini-parliaments’ that facilitate dialogue between workers, management and the broader community. The model opens up new channels of communication between stakeholders across the plantation region, serving as a forum where collective decisions about community development priorities and labour conditions are negotiated and decided in a transparent way. An independent assessment by the New Economics Foundation showed that that there was a 1:26 return on investment for estates, plus additional gains for workers and the community.

Gain the Ownership of Newly Built Estate Houses – ISD, 2015

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.