Assam Tea Labour Rights Violation
- On 10th October, Oxfam India released a report titled - Addressing the Human Cost of Assam Tea, highlighting the issues of violation of labour rights in the tea estates of Assam.
- The report was published along with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
Key Highlights of the Report
- Labours of Assam tea estate regularly clock up 13 hours of backbreaking work a day receiving between Rs 110 and Rs 130 a day. This wage is so low that most labours receive ‘Below Poverty Line’ ration cards from the government;
Unavailability of Basic Facilities
- Indian tea estates are legally obliged under the Plantation Labour Act (1951)to provide decent working conditions, housing, healthcare and education.
- But the existing condition of housing and sanitation is very poor with dilapidated or non-existent facilities.
- Absence of basic facilities gave rise to various other problems like water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid and jaundice.
Awful Condition of Women Labours
- It is predominantly women who carry out the labour-intensive job of harvesting tea and end up being concentrated in these low-paid jobs. Despite their large numbers, they remain under-represented in trade unions.
- Inaccessible toilets, inadequate maternal and childcare facilities, inadequate maternity benefits and domestic violence are other major issues being faced by women labours.
Exploitation by Supermarket Brands
- The report attributed the condition of plantation workers to the relentless squeeze by supermarkets and brands on the share of the end-consumer price for tea. They typically capture over two thirds of the price paid by consumers for Assam tea in India – with just 7% remaining for workers on tea estates.
- For ex. A 200 gms. packet of branded Assam tea is sold in India for Rs. 68. Of this, less than Rs. 5 is left for workers (using plucking costs as a proxy indicator) while tea brands and supermarkets retain around Rs. 40.
Plantation Labor Act (PLA), 1951
- Highlighting Government’s Effort: The report is significant in highlighting the Assam government’s commitment to increasing the minimum wages of tea plantation workers to Rs 351 met with hurdles of financial viability in the sector.
- Economic Crisis: The over exploitation by tea brands and supermarkets, combined with rising costs and the impacts of the climate crisis, is contributing to a severe economic crisis for the entire Indian tea industry.
Issues in Assam Tea Industry
Shutdowns of Tea Plantations
Less Production of Tea
Decline in Tea price
Less Availability of Labours
Lack Proper Storage
- Increasing global demand for Assam tea has raised the hopes of the industry.
- Venturing into new markets in the global market to regain its demand.
- Creating favorable export condition and domestic market promotion can also benefit the industry.
- Improved supply chain and storage management will enhance shelf life.
- Various management programs should be initiated by the industry as well as by the government to develop the capabilities of the tea executives.
- The upcoming Occupational Health and Safety Bill, which would help the struggling Assam tea industry be viable and at the same time ensure fair living wages and decent working and living conditions for tea plantation workers and their families.
- Supermarkets, brands and consumer come together to support the Assam government’s move to provide living wages to workers and to ensuring more of the price paid by the consumers trickle down to them.
- Tea brands need to improve their transparency and accountability, in line with India’s National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct framework. They must inform consumers about where their tea comes from and how much is paid for it at each stage of the supply chain. It is also important that Indian consumers continue enjoying their cup of tea and at the same time demand fair living wages for workers.