Top tea brands exposed
A BBC investigation has found “dangerous and degrading living and working conditions” on a number of tea plantations in India.
The plantations investigated were all Rainforest Alliance accredited and supply some of the UK's biggest tea brands including PG Tips (Unilever), Tetleys and Twinings.
The investigation on tea estates in Assam, north-east India, found:
- Workers living in broken houses with terrible sanitation. Many families have no toilets and say they have no choice but to defecate amongst the tea bushes.
- Wages are so low, that tea workers and their families are left malnourished and vulnerable to fatal illnesses.
- There was also a disregard for health and safety, with workers spraying chemicals without protection
- Child labour was found at the prestigious Doomur Dullung estate. One girl who said she was 14 said she had been working full time for two months.
All the estates the BBC visited have been certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
Rainforest Alliance acknowledged issues with the certification process telling the BBC "Clearly an auditing process, because it rests on an annual inspection, is not going to be perfect," its director Edward Millard said.
As we mention in our report on tea, Unilever's Rainforest Alliance certified tea plantations in India and Kenya were critisied in 2011, after campaigners claimed to have uncovered issues around the payment of wages, discrimination against female workers and health and safety. It also said that workforces in both India and Kenya were “permanently casual” and that the workplace-related human rights of freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were being hampered.
Tetley Tea had also been criticised previously. In 2013 a complaint was made about Tata’s Tetley tea plantations in northeast India – Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (APPL) – which is 20% owned by the World Bank. According to the complaint, workers had called on the World Bank to ensure the end of inhumane working and living conditions and coercion on the plantations.
In 2009 management of APPL imposed two lockouts on its workforce, the second of which lasted three months. Workers had been protesting about the abusive treatment of a pregnant tea worker, Ms Arti Oraon, by the plantation’s doctor.
According to the IUF (International Federation of Trade Unions) the goal of the lockouts was to “starve the workers into renouncing their elementary human rights, including their right to protest against extreme abuse and exploitation”. A settlement was finally reached in 2011 for the repayment of wages of employees during the lockouts and compensation to the families.
Meanwhile ABF, producers of the Twinings brand, were also under the spotlight in March this year when an Oxfam report ranked them last out of ten companies with ABF scoring worst for its polices on land rights, women's rights and climate change.
In October 2013 Oxfam released another report called ‘Sugar Rush’ which urged ABF to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on land grabs. It stated that sugar, along with soy and palm oil, were driving large-scale land acquisitions and land conflicts at the expense of small-scale food producers and their families.
Not all bad news
However, there are a number of Ethical Consumer Best Buy teas that are both Fairtrade and organic: Hampstead Tea, Pukka teas and Qi teas.
These are followed by Steenbergs, Cafedirect and Traidcraft.
Read more about the tea industry in our special report which includes rankings of 30 brands with detailed scorecards and best buy information. >
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