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CSR: Price of a Cup of Tea

Tea plantation workers

India is among the largest consumers of tea in the world. It represents 19% of the global tea market. Tea is part of every social gathering in the country. However, the price we pay to have that tea is often overlooked by many.

Assam is the tea-growing state of India. The tea industry is mostly based there, with a lot of human rights violations. According to the government data, for every 100,000 births, 237 women lose their lives, making Assam the most dangerous state in the country to give birth.

Some of the largest tea companies of the world including Hindustan Unilever and Tata Global Beverages source tea from Assam. In fact, a spokesperson of Hindustan Unilever confirmed that 40% of their tea for the domestic Indian market comes from non-certified plantations as reported by CNN. The company aims to move this to 100% sustainably sourced plantations by 2020.

In 2009, Tata invested about $7.8 million to create Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), the second largest tea producer in Assam. The APPL project affected 155,000 people – including 30,000 tea plantation workers and their families. However, the workers at this corporate-funded plantation too were not treated very well. The reports were filed by workers on 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, with the help of three local NGOs, PAJHRA, PAD and DBSS in 2013 with the World Bank’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO).

CAO released its final report after three years of investigations confirming many of the workers’ complaints. According to the report, despite a share program meant to increase worker profits, workers suffer from low wages, poor working conditions, inadequate living quarters and struggle to access basic healthcare. Additionally, the report finds that workers handled hazardous pesticides without proper training or equipment, conditions which even lead to the sudden death of at least one employee.

After China, India is the largest tea producer in the world. Assam is the largest tea producing state in India with 800 tea plantations. The state’s tea exports are valued at $250 million. But the price of a cup of tea is more than the lives of the tea plantation workers.

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The CSR Journal Team