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UK's Tetley reveals tea suppliers in push for slave-free sourcing

by Annie Banerji | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 2 November 2018 15:57 GMT

Freshly plucked tea leaves are seen in the hand of a tea garden worker inside a tea estate in Assam, India, April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

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Some Indian plantations certified as slavery-free are nonetheless abusing and underpaying their workers

(Adds comment in paragraph 14 and 15)

By Annie Banerji

NEW DELHI, Nov 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tetley, the world's second biggest tea company, has released a list of its suppliers, including those in India, to boost transparency in its supply chain, the British firm's owner Tata Global Beverages said on Friday.

India's tea industry, the second largest in the world, employs 3.5 million workers, many of whom are exploited on plantations and live in poverty, research has shown.

Tetley sources most of its tea from India, with 141 suppliers of a total 227 named in the list published last week.

Major brands are facing mounting regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure their products are free of slavery and other abusive practices.

"The information has been put up in response to changing consumer expectations in the U.K., regarding transparency in the supply chain," a spokesperson for Tata Global Beverages told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an emailed statement.

The company declined to say whether its Indian subsidiaries would also follow this practice and publish suppliers' lists.

Tetley became the third major British tea company after Yorkshire Tea owner Bettys & Taylors Group and Twinings to publish a full list of suppliers.

Some Indian plantations certified as slavery-free are nonetheless abusing and underpaying their workers, according to research by Britain's Sheffield University.

Many women working on plantations in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, where major brands source much of their tea, earn a "pitiful" $2 a day and live in "appalling" conditions, found a report from British charity Traidcraft Exchange in May.

Estate owners often cite the benefits they are legally required to provide, which include housing, toilets, health facilities and subsidised food, to justify low wages.

But workers complain repeated requests for repairs and better food supplies - often insufficient, stale or contaminated - are largely ignored, according to the report.

Tata Global Beverages says it works to ensure all its suppliers meet ethical standards and follows a strict code of conduct to "ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place anywhere in our supply chains".

The Kolkata-based company aims to launch a new supplier code of conduct next year.

Genevieve LeBaron, a politics professor at Sheffield University and leading anti-slavery academic, said abuse does not stop just because of more transparency.

"It needs to be followed up with action to transform the business models and supply chain dynamics that promote exploitation," said LeBaron.

Campaigners said Tetley's move would help improve conditions but cautioned it would not be enough to ensure all tea plantation workers got a fair deal.

"(The list) must then be accompanied by meaningful dialogue with workers to properly address the risks they identify," said Joe Bardwell, a spokesman for the British-based Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC). (Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji; Additional reporting by Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Astrid Zweynert; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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