Guwahati, September14: The tea industry in Assam have been facing constant criticism and accusations of slave labor, despite this estate owners effortlessly manages to rubbish such claims every time. Trade unions too have been demanding for better wages and proper living and working conditions or the plantation workers for decades.
The World Bank group now too denies allegation by civil society groups, that thousands of tea pickers were living in poor conditions at an Indian project it funds with the multinational Tata Global Beverages.
In a joint venture with the IFC and Tata Global Beverages (TGB), the Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (APPL) employs around 30,000 tea workers in Asam.
Complaints by charities and unions about exploitation of tea pickers prompted an International Finance Corporation (IFC), a part of World Bank to initiate a 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. Despite the World Bank group’s own watchdog raising concerns over low wages and poor housing little progress had been made to protect workers at India’s second largest tea producer in the northeast state of Assam. The investigation also found IFC’s investment supported an employee share-purchase program in which APPL misrepresented the risks of buying stock, resulting in workers incurring debts.
The IFC has been criticized for failing to help preserve jobs and raise standards for workers even after investing $7.8 million in the $87m project.
Four civil society groups – PAJHRA, PAD, Nazdeek and Accountability Counsel, said little has changed despite promises to improve conditions. Stephen Ekka, Director of PAJHRA, an Assam-based charity said living conditions continue to remain oppressive and unsafe for tea workers, with crumbling housing, squalid sanitation, the absence of toilets and unclean drinking water.
He also added that the IFC and APPL also failed to provide safety training or ensure basic protection gear for pesticides. On the other hand, APPL dismissed the report’s findings citing them to be inaccurate providing a statement that wages were in line with salary laws for the sector and safety and medical care provisions in place.
TGB also goes on to claim that despite conditions of workers in rest of the country was bad from worse, APPL was committed to better the lives of its workers.