World Bank defends treatment of tea garden labourers in India amid fears of exploitation
The World Bank group has defended the treatment of tea pickers at an Indian project it funds with the multinational Tata Global Beverages, dismissing criticism that thousands of workers were living in poor conditions.
Four charities this week said little progress had been made to protect workers at India’s second largest tea producer in the northeast state of Assam - despite the World Bank group’s own watchdog raising concerns over low wages and poor housing.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) - which is part of the World Bank group - invested $7.8 million in the $87 million project to help preserve jobs and raise standards for workers, but had been criticised for failing to do this.
However an IFC spokesman said more funds have been allocated to improve living standards, and employee councils formed to address complaints and boost workers’ say in company decisions.
“There are the long-standing challenges within the tea industry in India. Across Assam and other tea plantations, poverty is deeply entrenched,” Frederick Jones told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Despite the many challenges, Tata and IFC remain forces for good in the sector,” he added in an emailed statement.
The tea industry in Assam, the world’s largest growing area, has been in crisis for years with accusations of slave labour and trade unions demanding better wages while tea estate owners refused. Tea estates have faced closures due to various reasons, including labour disputes.
Around 30,000 tea workers are employed by Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (APPL) - a joint venture with the IFC and Tata Global Beverages (TGB).
APPL was set up in 2009 to acquire and manage tea plantations previously owned by TGB, which owns Tetley, the second-largest tea brand in the world.
Investigation into conditions
TGB owns just less than half of APPL and the IFC 20 percent, while the remainder is held by workers and smaller firms.
Complaints by charities and unions about exploitation of tea pickers prompted an IFC watchdog probe in 2014.
The watchdog’s findings in November last year found APPL had failed to identify and address complaints of low wages, poor housing and sanitation, and exposure to hazardous pesticides without adequate protection.
The investigation also found IFC’s investment supported an employee share-purchase programme in which APPL misrepresented the risks of buying stock, resulting in workers incurring debts.
Despite promises to improve conditions, a report this week by four civil society groups - PAJHRA, PAD, Nazdeek and Accountability Counsel - said little has changed.
“Living conditions continue to remain oppressive and unsafe for tea workers, with crumbling housing, squalid sanitation, the absence of toilets and unclean drinking water,” said Stephen Ekka, Director of PAJHRA, an Assam-based charity.
The IFC and APPL have also failed to provide safety training or ensure basic protection gear for pesticides, he said.
APPL dismissed the report’s findings as inaccurate.
A company statement said wages were in line with salary laws for the sector and safety and medical care provisions in place.
TGB said despite problems faced by India’s tea industry, APPL was committed to better the lives of its workers.
“APPL faces the same financial challenges as the rest of the tea industry in India,” said an emailed statement from TGB.
“However, that has not impeded its efforts to bring about a positive change in the tea plantations ecosystem ... in which APPL has invested a substantial amount both in terms of capital investment as well as operating expenses.”
Enter your email to get our daily newsletter in your inbox
- India’s sedition law has an interesting past — it was introduced by the British in 1870, decided to be dropped from the Constitution in 1948 after discussions of the Constituent Assembly.
- India will also promote tourism by celebrating 2022 as the Visit India Year through a promotion campaign highlighting India’s strengths like heritage, culture, art, wellness and yoga.
- The ADG has constituted teams of police personnel from Aligarh to assist the Hathras police.
- The incident took place on Sunday afternoon, when the girl went to a wheat field, owned by the family of the accused, to collect fodder and water.
- The provisions under the new rules relate to the code of ethics for digital news publishers, setting up of a grievance redressal system and the requirement of disclosure of information to Centre, the ministry said.
- The instrument will support the 3.6 metre Devasthal Optical Telescope (DOT) in Uttarakhand, an official release from the department of science said on Wednesday.
- Lt-Gen BS Raju said a quiet LoC will allow us to address the challenge of terrorism in a focused manner.
- The central agency has registered a case on the basis of an FIR registered by Chennai Economic Offences Wing in September last year.
- Dhyani added that the burden on the ecology due to construction on Himalayan slopes made the region prone to disasters.
- Navlakha claimed in his petition filed through advocate Shadan Farasat that the 90-day period for filing of charge sheet was over and he was entitled to default bail under Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
- Lama was being considered as the GJM candidate for the Kalimpong assembly seat in the coming polls later this month.
- Unhappy with the response, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to appear in the case along with Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Vikramjeet Banerjee, who presented the note to the Court.
- The officer withdrew his request after an orthopaedic surgeon said his purpose would not be served by buying a horse.