March 4, 2014

Tea plantation under investigation for poor conditionsSocial issues are a big part of agricultural sustainability, as workers are needed to produce food. Recently, a variety of human rights groups – including Peoples’ Action for Development – called upon the World Bank to investigate the living and working conditions of the Tata Global Beverages tea plantations in India. Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd. (APPL), a branch of Tata Global Beverages, which produces the Tetley tea band that’s served all over the U.S. and internationally.

As you learn more about sustainable cooking at your Austin culinary arts school, you should stay informed on the latest food production labor condition news in the U.S. and overseas.

Call to action
Human rights groups have been calling for a formal investigation of the Tata Global Beverages plantations since 2013, and it took a year for World Bank (a company that gives support to third world countries in order to fight extreme poverty) to respond. The complaint stated that workers make less than $2 a day, which is not enough to feed or support a family. As a result, many of the people working for APPL are malnourished.

Investigating conditions
The World Bank announced during the first week of February that it was launching an investigation into the matter. Around the same time, the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School released a report compiled after members of the institute visited a majority of the APPL’s plantations. The report claimed that the plantations not only failed to meet World Bank standards, but violated Indian Law.

APPL has approximately 31,000 permanent workers who are given a daily wage. Many families also live in company housing where conditions are allegedly poor. According to the Wall Street Journal, researchers working on the Columbia report saw open sewage near a majority of the houses and that there were only a few water pumps nearby.

Changing the status quo
While APPL says it will comply with the investigation, the company also told The Economic Times it believed workers’ wages and conditions met Indian labor laws and industry standards.

“Wages are paid as per industry agreements,” Kaushik Biswas, AAPL spokesman, told the source.

The World Bank is waiting until the investigation concludes to suggest changes. This isn’t the first time Tata Global Beverages has been asked to improve working conditions. In 2009, the International Finance Corp., a private sector division of World Bank, gave Tata Global Beverages $8 million to address the social, health and safety issues plaguing its plantations. According to the Wall Street Journal, human rights groups beleive the money hasn’t been used.

Tea industry challenges
The tea industry as a whole is facing issues that make production difficult. As populations in tea-growing countries grow, the crop is often sacrificed to other plant products. For example, Indonesia converted some plantations into fields to grow rubber trees, fruit and palm trees for oil, according to BBC. Additionally, climate change is creating more challenges for cultivating the delicate tea plant. Plantations that get little rain have to devise irrigation systems that may end up causing water shortages.

“It is quite possible that more extreme weather could interrupt supply and make tea far more difficult to grow,” Keith Writer, commodities director at Taylors of Harrogate, told the source.

Both worker’s conditions and environmental changes could impact the price of tea you buy.