Skip to main content

As workers suffer, Assam tea business chain retains 60-94% of earnings in India, abroad

By Rajiv Shah
A recent paper, published by the high-profile UK-based NGO Oxfam Great Britain (GB), has revealed that supermarkets and tea brands in India retain more than half (58.2%) of the final consumer price of black processed tea sold in India, with just 7.2% remaining for workers. “For a typically sized pack of branded black tea sold in India priced at Rs 68.8 for 200g, supermarkets and tea brands would retain some Rs 40.4, while workers would collectively receive just Rs 4.95 per pack”, it says.
Titled “Addressing the Human Cost of Assam Tea: An agenda for change to respect, protect and fulfil human rights on Assam tea plantations”, the paper is based on the findings of research studies by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and the Bureau for the Appraisal of Social Impacts for Citizen Information (BASIC), further says that it uses “retail prices as a proxy indicator” for its estimate.
Exported abroad, the paper, authored by Sabita Banerji, Robin Willoughby and Amrita Nandy, says, as for the tea sold in Europe and America, an even smaller amount goes to “labour costs to pay workers”. It says that
  • In Germany, supermarkets and tea brands are estimated to receive 86.5% of the final consumer price for bagged black tea sold in the country, while labour costs to pay workers represent just 1.4% of the final price.
  • In the Netherlands, supermarkets and tea brands are estimated to receive 83.7% of the final consumer price for bagged black tea sold in the country, while labour costs to pay workers represent just 2.9% of the final price. 
  • In the United Kingdom supermarkets and tea brands are estimated to receive 66.8% of the final consumer price for bagged black tea sold in the country, while labour costs to pay workers represent just 4% of the final price. 
  • In the United States, supermarkets and tea brands are estimated to receive 93.8% of the final consumer price for bagged black tea sold in the country, while labour costs to pay workers represents just 0.8% of the final price. 
The paper estimates, while 80% of Assam tea is consumed domestically in India, the four countries UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, among others, “collectively imported nearly 40,000 tonnes of black tea from India in 2018.
Further estimating that Assam tea workers would needed to earn Rs 400 per day 2017 – quite in line with “living wage estimates from the Global Living Wage Coalition benchmark and the Minimum Wage Advisory Board for tea workers” -- the paper says, even India’s unions called for a national minimum wage of Rs 350 per day for unskilled agricultural workers, which was agreed upon by the Government of India in 2016.
An Assam tea worker holds his payslip
Pointing out that the minimum wages are yet to be implemented, the paper says, the permanent workers in tea estates are paid a cash component of between Rs 137 and Rs 170 a day. “Private plantations pay Rs 167 per day, but the state-owned tea estates pay as low as Rs 137”, it says, underlining, “This is well below the minimum wage level for unskilled agricultural workers”.
Pointing out that 50% of the tea worker households own ‘below poverty line’ ration cards issued by the Government of Assam, making them eligible for rations of 5kg of rice per family member per month, the paper believes, “This is official acknowledgement that tea workers do not earn enough to survive on.” 
According to the paper, more than a third (37%) of the households surveyed on the tea estates visited, reported that their expenditure exceeds their income, "which means that they have recurrent debt”, regretting, “Most workers are not aware of how their wages are calculated. This is sometimes because payslips are not provided – more than 50% of the workers interviewed said they do not receive a payslip against their weekly or fortnightly payment.”
A third of the households surveyed reported that their expenditure exceeds their income, which means that they have recurrent debt
The paper further says, “Provident fund deductions are a statutory requirement, but workers reported being unaware of the amount deducted. They also described difficulties claiming their benefits on retirement. Workers reported that it takes 12-36 months to receive their pension. In one case, the estate has gone into debt and can neither pay the pension nor return the workers’ contributions.”
Despite tea being a year-round crop (with seasonal peaks), the paper says, “Employment is not guaranteed – even for so called ‘permanent workers'.” Thus, “Worker-manager conflict over wages and conditions has led to some estates closing completely, leaving workers destitute. A worker on a government-owned estate that had closed for three years from 2001 to 2004 said that during the closure, workers and their families only avoided starvation by seeking menial jobs outside the estate, or selling wood stolen from nearby forests.”
Based on interviews with 510 workers on 50 Assam tea estates that supply to tea brands and supermarkets internationally, the paper give details on how women tea workers “undertake up to 13 hours of physical labour per day after just six hours’ rest”, and how "most workers do not have access to safe drinking water, and "Indian tea estates are legally obliged to provide decent housing, healthcare, education and working conditions – but are clearly failing to do so.”

Comments

Uma said…
....and the government does not care......

TRENDING

Nobel laureates join international figures, seek release of Bhima Koregaon accused activists

Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk,  Wole Soyinka Counterview Desk  As many as 57 top international personalities, including Nobel laureates, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers cultural personalities, and members of Parliament of European countries, have urged the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to ensure immediate release of human rights defenders in India “into safe conditions”.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Russia, China to call the shots in Middle East, as Muslim nations turn into house of cards

By Haider Abbas* Only a naive would buy that the ‘situation of ceasefire’ between the State of Israel and Hamas would continue, as if the foiled attempt to demolish Al Aqsa this time, is not be repeated, if not in any near future then in sometime to come. Israel already has spurned the ‘ceasefire’ by storming Al Aqsa after the Friday prayers on May 21.

Collapse of healthcare system? Why 90% of Covid patients treated at home survived

By Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey* Well known Hindustani classical singer Padma Vibhu shan Channulal Mishra, chosen as one of the proposers of Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha elections, lost his wife and elder daughter to Covid in private hospitals in Varanasi. Younger daughter has accused Medwin Hospital of charging Rs 1.5 lakh for treatement of her sister and not being able to explain the cause of death. Pandit Channulal Mishra has asked for a probe into his daughter’s death from the Chief Minister. The family has also asked for the CCTV footage of the ward where deceased daughter was admitted for a week.

Hunger, lack of food security behind India's 'slip' in UN's sustainable development rank

By Dr Gian Singh*  According to a report released by the United Nations on June 6, 2021, India's ranking of achieving Sustainable Development based on the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs) set by the 193 countries in the 2003 agenda, which was 115th last year, has slipped to 117th position this year. India ranks not only the lowest among the BRICS countries -- Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa but also below the four South Asian countries -- Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Modi-led regime 'contributed' 60% to rise of global poverty, yet Hindutva is intact

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* In recent years, the Hindutva politics has caused long term damage to India and Indians. The so called 56-inch macho PM, the propaganda master manufactures and survives all political crisis including the current mismanagement of the Coronavirus pandemic in India. In spite of deaths and destitutions, the social, cultural, economic and religious base of Hindutva is intact.

Rooted in mistrust? Covid-19’s march into rural India is a very different ball game

By Sudhir Katiyar* As the Covid-19 virus penetrates rural India, the rural communities are responding very differently from their urban counterparts who rushed to the hospitals. The rural communities are avoiding the public health facilities and any mention of the disease. The note argues that this supposedly irrational response is based on a deep-seated mistrust of the state by the rural communities. It can not be resolved with routine Information, Education and Communication (IEC) measures suggested in the Government of India SOP for tackling Covid-19 in rural areas.

Courageous, in-depth attempt to confirm common spiritual values of Christ, Buddha

By RB Sreekumar, IPS*  All religions, both theistic and atheistic designed conceptual and practical architecture, for holistic and comprehensive elevation and enlightenment of humanity. PK Vijayan, in his novel “Nirvana of Jesus Christ” (Notion Press, 2020) through creative imagination portrayed personality evolution of the two progenitors of God-centric and sagaciously logical major religions – Jesus Christ of Christianity and Gautama Buddha of Buddhism.

Why hasn't Govt of India responded to US critique of freedom of religion under Modi?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* About two weeks ago, on May 12, 2021, the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken released in Washington the ‘2020 International Religious Freedom Report.’ This official annual report of the US Government details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes US actions to support religious freedom worldwide. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, this report highlights the fact that ‘religious freedom is both a core American value and a universal human right’.