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Open letter to all the companies that manufacture or distribute tea regarding slavery and tea plantations of Assam in India

06 March 2014, New Delhi: Global March Against Child Labour a worldwide coalition of civil society, teacher and trade union organisations active in over 140 countries and united in their determination to protect and promote the rights of all children, particularly their freedom from exploitation and promote good quality public education, calls upon all the companies that manufacture or distribute tea to take serious cognisance of the articles published in The Guardian on 1 March 2014 The tea pickers sold into slavery, India’s tea firms urged to act on slave trafficking after girls freed and Assam’s modern slave: the real price of a cup of Tetley tea - video.

The articles yet again draw the attention of the global community towards the precarious working conditions widespread exploitation, abuse and denial of human rights of the tea pickers in Assam. This is despite a large number of the plantations carrying fair/ethical trade certifications. Furthermore, these abysmally poor working conditions are in violation of national legislations and internationally laid down principles and standards.

The articles reveal that extreme poverty due to depressingly low wages; absence of healthcare and education facilities in many of these areas has rendered the tea plantations as breeding grounds for human trafficking, particularly child trafficking.

According to the report “The More Things Change…” by Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, in West Bengal and Assam there is no statutory minimum wage for tea plantation work. In fact, the workers get paid at 50 per cent of the other workers in the state. Freedom of association in true spirit is also denied to the workers, with the plantations workers compelled to join the largely discredited Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangh.

Civil society organisations, particularly, the global and national trade unions have been urging the tea manufactures and distributors to address the vulnerabilities of the tea workers in Assam for many years. It is disturbing that yet again these have been highlighted, due to lack of adequate and effective responses and efforts by the businesses.  

We are therefore calling on you to respect the UN guiding principles on business and human rights: Implementing the United Nations Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework, the ILO’s core labour standards and the national legislations and policies in India.

In particular, we call upon you to:

  • Ensure that workers in tea plantations are not only paid a statutory minimum wage, but a living wage that provides the workers and their families a dignified life and decent living conditions.
  • Ensure the right of the workers to form and join a union of their choice upholding the Right to Freedom of Association. The restrictions on workers to join a complicit union should be immediately withdrawn.
  • Ensure that all the workers at the tea plantations, their families and children have access to healthcare, education facilities, and social protection schemes.

Yours sincerely,

Kailash Satyarthi
Chairperson

 

 

 

 

References:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/mar/02/tea-workers-sold-into-slavery

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/01/india-tea-firms-urged-tackle-slave-traffic-plantations

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/video/2014/mar/01/tetley-tea-maids-real-price-cup-tea-video?commentpage=1

 

https://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/human-rights-institute/files/tea_report_final_draft-smallpdf.pdf