Friday, June 01, 2018

Don't trust the label

The tea industry in India, the world's second-largest producer that employs 3.5 million workers, has faced accusations of abusive conditions.

A study from Britain's Sheffield University showed certification schemes by groups such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance are failing to stop labour exploitation. Some Indian tea plantations stamped slavery-free are abusing and underpaying their workers, according to new data.

The report found little difference in the conditions of about 600 tea workers surveyed on certified and non-certified farms in Assam and Kerala, India's major tea producing regions. All lived below the poverty line and workers on certified farms were often treated worse, facing beatings and sexual violence and having wages and benefits withheld, the study said. One tea plucker, who has been on a certified farm for the past 10 years, said workers were paid 137 rupees ($2) a day to harvest 24 kg (53 lb) of tea leaves, below a national minimum wage of 250 rupees a day for informal agriculture labourers. Those who did not meet the quota were paid less, said 24-year-old Tanesh Dhanuar, whose wife also works on the tea farm. The study found 54 percent of workers on certified farms had fallen into debt - practically the same rate as on non-certified estates - with many borrowing from plantation owners and creating a debt cycle which can trap workers for years.

"Very bad labour exploitation was endemic ... it affected almost every labourer we spoke to," said Genevieve LeBaron, a politics professor at the university who led the two-year study. "Our research raises really big questions about the effectiveness of certification overall as a tool to solve labour issues in supply chains."

Trade experts said the study revealed similar findings in Ghana's cocoa business.

It speaks to the fact that just putting a label on things doesn't automatically make it a good product," said Danielle Nierenberg, president of the U.S.-based non-government organisation Food Tank. 

Cindy Berman of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) said she was not surprised by the findings, as companies rely far too heavily on certification and audits to monitor working conditions and detect labour abuses despite their limited scope. "They [buyers, retailers, and brands] cannot push the risk and responsibility down the supply chain as this will ultimately impact on workers," added the ETI's head of slavery strategy.

 Aarti Krishnan, senior research officer at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) think tank, commented, "A lot of it lies with the institutional structures and state level governance," she added. "They're enabling plantation owners to do things that are not necessarily ethical."

"This capitalist system is built on exploiting the very beginning of the supply chain - there needs to be an incredible overhaul," said Simran Sethi, a fellow at the U.S.-based Institute for Food and Development Policy.

Assam labour minister, Pallab Lochan Das, said "Right now, the condition in tea gardens of Assam is very tough and miserable for workers. It is almost like slavery."

http://news.trust.org/item/20180531000127-qjqyq/

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