News Asia-Pacific

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Tea plantation workers earn under €2.50 a day

Dean Nelson in New Delhi

Published 13/02/2014 | 02:30

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A plantation worker in India
A plantation worker in India

Indian tea plantation workers employed by a company that owns Tetley are paid less than €2.50 per day and live in inhumane conditions surrounded by cesspools, according to a report released yesterday.

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The workers live in the north-east state of Assam on 24 plantations owned by a company controlled by Tata, the Indian conglomerate that also owns Jaguar Land Rover, and backed by the World Bank.

The report – by the Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute – alleged that plantation workers were bullied over sick leave, denied free health care and subjected to excessive deductions from their meagre pay for "fringe benefits".

"The living conditions on the plantations presented some of the most conspicuous violations of Indian law," the report found.

"On every plantation visited, workers showed researchers dilapidated homes lacking protection from rain and wind, each dwelling often housing the families of several workers."

Workers were forced to make three visits to a company-funded hospital before being allowed to take sick leave and visits from friends and relatives outside the plantation were vetted by the company, staff told the researchers.

Workers reported the killing of two employees by the armed forces, which intervened in a protest over the death of a worker in an apparent industrial accident at the Powai plantation. The workers believed their colleague had died from poisoning after spraying the plants with chemicals, a claim the company denied.

At the Borhat plantation in Dibrugarh district, researchers said overflowing latrines had created "a network of cesspools throughout the labour lines, the living area for employees and their families".

THREATS

Senior plantation managers told the researchers not to listen to the workers because they had "low IQs" and were "like cattle".

The report, the result of a three-year study in which researchers visited 17 of the company's 24 plantations in Assam, also criticised a widely welcomed employee share-ownership scheme established with finance from the World Bank's lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Workers said the scheme was pushed by a company called Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL ) with "threats and duress" but little information or independent advice.

Tata Global Beverages retains a controlling stake in APPL.

"Workers noted that these dividends have been lower than the interest rates available for long-term deposits at any commercial bank," the report said.

According to the report, 'The More Things Change... The World Bank, Tata and Enduring Abuses on India's Tea Plantations', the IFC had failed to notice poor conditions in visits to just three plantations.

A spokesman for Tata APPL said APPL it was a "separate corporate entity" and declined to comment on the allegations.

APPL said the report was "incorrect and misleading in some parts, which are injurious to our interests and defamatory".

Komala Ramachandra, south Asia director of the Accountability Counsel, which has advised groups representing the plantation workers, said: "We hope that everyone who enjoys a cup of hot tea in the mornings, perhaps while reading this, will take a minute to think about the people who make it possible, and raise questions to their tea producers, like Tata, about the quality of workers' lives." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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