The new research, commissioned by Oxfam and undertaken by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), called for urgent action from supermarkets, tea brands and state authorities to end the suffering of Assam’s tea workers.
The “relentless squeeze by supermarkets and brands on the share of the end consumer price” for tea makes poverty and hardship for workers in Assam more likely, said the report after interviewing 510 workers in 50 tea estates in the state to ascertain the main challenges faced by workers.
But, combined with rising costs and the impacts of the climate crisis, it is also contributing to a severe economic crisis for the entire Indian tea industry, it said.
“The research also found that despite working for over 13 hours a day, workers earn between Rs 137 to Rs 167. It found that tea brands and supermarkets typically capture over two thirds of the price paid by consumers for Assam tea in India – with just 7 per cent remaining for workers on tea estates”, said a release.
For a 200 gram packet of branded Assam tea sold in India for Rs 68, less than Rs 5 is left for workers while tea brands and supermarkets retain around Rs 40, according to the study.
The report-‘Addressing The Human Cost of Assam Tea’- stated that the proposed Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill can enable the struggling Assam tea industry viable.
It can also ensure fair wages and decent working and living conditions for tea plantation workers and their families.
Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said, “We welcome the attempts of the government to increase the wages of tea plantation workers and the upcoming Occupational Health and Safety bill. Both have the potential to address the systemic injustice faced by the tea workers in Assam.”
He said tea brands have often questioned the financial viability of paying fair wages to workers, but the research showed that “by sharing just two per cent additional value of the price of tea, fair living wages can be provided to millions of workers in the sector”.