A new report is warning millions of tea drinkers in Britain that their breakfast cuppa may come from Indian workers toiling for 7p an hour – well below a living wage. A Bitter Cup, co-published by IUF, Unite the Union and the British charity War On want, was launched to coincide with the UK prime minister David Cameron’s trip to India at the end of July. It shows that workers in northern India earn just INR 1,220 compared to a living wage of at least INR 3,500 a month. Consequently, malnutrition is rife and medical studies have found 60 per cent of children in Indian tea estates are underweight.
The report also looks at the impact of the growing use of temporary contracts which means that plantations do not have to give benefits such as medical facilities, maternity leave and food rations.
Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: “When Cameron visits India he will be confronted with the dire poverty that faces millions of Indians. The UK government has a duty to ensure fair treatment for the workers who supply our tea. It must not allow this exploitation to continue.”
In central Kenya the reports finds workers supplying British supermarkets toil up to 74 hours a week for a mere 5,000 Kenyan shillings) a month – half a living wage.
After three months Kenyan workers are entitled to permanent contracts, with benefits including sick pay, maternity or paternity leave, and paid annual holidays. But factory staff are routinely laid off before this period expires and then rehired, losing these benefits.
Kenyan tea pickers interviewed were even worse off than factory workers, earning on average only 3,060 shillings a month, far below a living wage. Pickers work long hours on their feet all day, with heavy baskets on their backs, often in harsh weather.
Supermarkets account for over 80% of all tea bought in Britain. Yet the people who pick the tea at source get just 1p from every £1.60 box of tea bags sold.