| 04-12-2015

Abuse and violation of the human right to food and nutrition in India tea gardens

An International Fact Finding Mission (FFM) headed by the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition (GNRtFN) visited tea plantations in Assam and West Bengal from 27th November 2015 to 4th December 2015.

The objective of the Mission was to investigate the status of the human right to food and nutrition and related rights of tea plantation workers and the role played by the management of tea estates, companies and the government bodies.

At Press Conference in Kolkata and Delhi, the FFM said it observed high level of abuse and violation of the rights of tea workers in the visited regions. The team witnessed a hazardous combination of extremely low wages, precarious working conditions, inadequate housing and sanitation, structural violence against women, as well as lack of access to water, education and health care. With the right of tea workers to organize hampered, this unacceptable situation is driving thousands of families to the path of hunger, malnutrition and despair, increasingly reflected on child labor quotas and forced migration.

Tea workers and their families continue to face food shortages and are earning far less than decent living wages at these tea estates. Currently around Rs.122.50 per day, wages are lower than the minimal expenditures of worker families, and do not reflect the application of minimum standards. This situation especially impacts women who represent close to 70% of the entire workforce in the tea gardens. They are victims of structural discrimination, exclusion, and exploitation, while they are still expected to take care of their children and families. Violations of their reproductive rights end up impacting the nutritional environment for their babies, with serious consequences on cognitive and physical development,resulting in intergenerational vicious cycles of malnutrition.       

It is estimated that a worker earns less than 1% of the average per kilogram price of tea sold to Indian or international consumers. This is a drastic situation, especially when workers toil in tea plantation, amidst poor working conditions and non-responsive management. This severe situation is aggravated by the control that the managementof tea companies exert over tea workers and their families, which ultimately results in the loss of autonomy and self-determination.

There are several cases of undeclared and illegal closure of tea gardens, a major cause of concern for workers and their unions, who find it very difficult to fight against appalling working conditions. Companies disregard existing national law and Actsthat regulate labor relations in tea gardens, while central and state governments in India remain inactive when it comes to enforcing these laws.

During the mission,the team listened to some key demands of tea workers, which include the payment of living wages and the improvement of working conditions, especially for pregnant women, who are expected to be active until the 8th month of pregnancy and whose specific needs after birth are neglected, including breastfeeding. There is an urgent need for the refurbishment of existing housing stock and the provision of potable water in living quarters and work places, as well as access to education for children and health care in tea gardens.

With the closing of gardens having detrimental consequences on the lives of thousands, workers also request the provision of immediate relief for affected populations. Access to land is also a key demand for workers, who lack ownership of and autonomy regarding their future, and tea worker communities ask to fully participate in the decision-making of policy processes that impact their own lives.

Amongst preliminary recommendations, the GNRtFN calls on the Government of India to take urgent action to guarantee all human rights of tea workers, with special attention to the right to adequate food and nutrition and ensure that decisions relating to the future of the tea gardens -including any structural alternatives to the present situation- are taken with the involvement of the concerned tea workers during the entire process. The Government must also ensure the right to organize is not violatedand protect workers and trade union representatives against intimidation and coercion by managers. Companies must be held accountable for the non-implementation of the Plantations Labour Act (PLA).

The GNRtFN also recalls that the National Food Security Act (2013)must be fully implemented and the State of India has the obligation to guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition and related rights of populations in closed gardens in line with international and national law.

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The Network is an initiative of CSOs and social movements (peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists, landless people, consumers, urban people living in poverty, agricultural and food workers, women, youth, and indigenous peoples) that recognize the need to act jointly for the realization of the Right to Food and Nutrition.
  • The FFM is headed by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF), who is a member of the GNRtFN.
  • Other participating organizationsin the FFM are FIAN International, Pesticide Action Network, Right to Food Campaign (Nepal), Right to Food and Social Security Campaign (Bangladesh) and the Right to Food Campaign (India). The team consists of activists, experts and trade union leaders from Brazil, Peru, Germany, United Kingdom, Moldova, Spain, Bangladesh, Nepal and India.
  • The report will be available beginning 2016

For more information about the FMM, please contact     tang(at)fian.org 

For media enquiries, please contact     delrey(at)fian.org

Read more about the     Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition