Working conditions on tea plantations in Assam State in north-eastern India were sharply criticised on Thursday by the Oxfam non-governmental organisation, German-based Oxfam economic and globalisation analyst, Barbara Sennholz-Weinhardt, said.

“Only around four cents go to the pickers of the tea that goes into a pack of branded black tea selling for three euros ($3.30).

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“It was obvious that production through acceptable working and living conditions was impossible under these circumstances,’’ she said.

India is the largest exporter of tea to Germany, with 27 per cent of tea consumed in Germany coming from the country, according to figures from the German Tea Association.

Oxfam conducted a survey of 510 workers on 50 plantations in Assam, finding that they suffered appalling working conditions.

Some 56 per cent do not have enough to eat, with more than 25 per cent consuming less than 1,800 calories per day.

The German tea company, Teekanne said it was aware of the need for action in the region and that its checks could not be comprehensive, as Assam was a problematic region.

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“The appalling conditions that are described case-by-case have up to date not been found on the plantations from which we draw our tea,’’ Teekanne said.

Another German company, Ostfriesische Teegesellschaft, said that raising pay was a major issue.

But this required fundamental reform of India’s pay and social contributions system.

“We are one of the small players in Assam and our influence on the living and production conditions is extremely limited,’’ the company said.

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Around 45 per cent suffer illnesses such as jaundice, cholera and typhoid fever as a result of drinking contaminated water.

Oxfam noted that German consumers were unaware of the origin and production conditions that went into producing their tea.

The Tea Association said this information was available through hallmarks on the packaging.

It pointed to organisations like UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and the World Fair Trade Organisation.

But Oxfam charged that these certifications were ineffective, as rights were infringed on certified plantations as well. (NAN)



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