By Anuradha Nagaraj
LONDON, Nov 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — British tea brand Clipper released a list of its Indian suppliers on Thursday, joining a growing campaign to improve worker conditions in the state of Assam and rid the industry of widespread abuse.
"We believe that providing transparency on where we source our tea from will help build a more sustainable supply chain by empowering all stakeholders in the tea industry," said Rebecca Vercoe, Clipper Teas brand controller.
The upmarket tea brand was the fourth to reveal all the plantations it uses in India's Assam state for its black tea.
It was also the most detailed, with the names and addresses of all estates listed, according to the charity Traidcraft Exchange, which called on other brands to follow suit.
India's tea industry, the second largest in the world after China's, employs 3.5 million workers, many of whom are paid below minimum wage and live in poverty on the plantations where they work, research has shown.
Tea grown in Assam, in northeast India, is used in many blends sold by British tea companies, as well as being sold as a stand-alone product.
But it is also the site of widespread worker abuse and underpayment, according to research into the industry.
Some Indian plantations that are certified as slavery-free nonetheless mistreat their workers, according to research by Britain's Sheffield University.
Big brands are facing mounting regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure the workforce in their supply chains are paid fair wages, have access to health facilities and are guaranteed other benefits in accordance with existing labour laws.
"We recognise the size of the challenge but by sharing this information we hope to show how important it is to work only with progressive tea estates who look to improve the quality of life for their workers and their families," Vercoe said in an emailed response to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We also hope it will give tea drinkers a greater understanding of the value of tea."
Clipper, a British brand owned by a Dutch company, became the fourth major British label to reveal its suppliers, joining the owner of Yorkshire Tea, known as Bettys & Taylors Group, as well as Twinings and Tetley.
"The publishing of supplier lists by some UK brands is a step forward in the struggle for better living and working conditions for Assam tea workers," said Anirudha Nagar of the San Francisco-based charity Accountability Counsel, which promotes human rights.
The charity is supporting a complaint filed to the World Bank about poor living and working conditions on plantations in Assam owned by the World Bank and Tata Group, known as Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited.
"For the first time, the group of secretive big UK brands — now just PG Tips and Typhoo — are in a minority and should feel under pressure to join the four who have been transparent about where their tea comes from," Fiona Gooch, senior policy adviser for Traidcraft Exchange, said in a statement.
Saying that 1 in 3 children in Assam live below the poverty line, the British charity launched its campaign — called ‘Who picked my tea?' — to increase transparency in the industry and bring about better conditions for its pickers.
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj. Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths)