Women working on tea plantations in northeast India earn a "pitiful" $2 a day and live in "appalling" conditions with almost no toilets, according to a report released on Tuesday by the British charity Traidcraft Exchange. Workers in the tea-growing state of Assam were paid 137 rupees ($2) a day, far below the minimum wage of 250 rupees. More than half are women. Assam is the largest producer of tea in India and its estates supply top brands including Britain's Twinings and Tetley. Assam's tea industry has faced accusations in the past of exploitative work conditions, leading to labour disputes that have forced some plantations to shut. Estate owners often cite the benefits they are legally required to provide, which include housing, toilets, health facilities and subsidised food, to justify low wages. But workers said repeated requests for repairs and better food supplies - often insufficient, stale or contaminated - were largely ignored.
"The women who pick the tea we drink live in appalling conditions and are paid pitifully low wages by tea estates in Assam," said Fiona Gooch, a policy adviser for Traidcraft Exchange. Workers live in decrepit houses with leaky roofs. They have little or no access to sanitation facilities and most have to defecate in the bushes outside, the report said.
Stephen Ekka of PAJHRA, an Assam-based charity fighting for tea workers' rights, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, "In the global supply chain of tea business, the condition of workers is not taken into consideration."
"We register complaints to the management, they note it down, but that remains in the register, they give no importance," the report quotes an unnamed woman worker as saying. Others complained the lack of medicines and medical staff within plantations forced them to opt for expensive hospitals outside.
Nick Kightley of the British-based Ethical Trading Initiative said authorities must urgently meet the workers' basic needs.
"Without that, workers may be forced into excessive overtime or bonded labour ... This is simply unacceptable," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.