Sri Lanka tea plantations under investigation for labour rights
Posted on April 3rd, 2019

 by Lucy Patchett in Ethics, Supply chain, Sustainability  Courtesy  cips.org

Sri Lankan tea plantations in the central highland district of Nuwara Eliya are being investigated by the Rainforest Alliance and the Fairtrade Foundation for abusing labour workers rights and breaching ethical label standards.

Investigations are underway, confirmed The Rainforest Alliance and the Fairtrade Foundation, and said that if plantations are found to be in violation of the ethical label’s standards their certification will be suspended or cancelled.

The action follows reveleations by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) that plantation workers wages were deducted without consent, and workers were paid an average of $1.54 daily after debt repayments, salary advances, and fees. On average, 74% wage deductions were made at Fairtrade-certified states, and 65% of wages were taken from workers at Rainforest Alliance-certified estates, according to the TRF .

Giri Kadurugamuwa, Sri Lankan consulting programme co-ordinator for the Rainforest Alliance, told SM: The Rainforest Alliance is currently working with the authorised certification body responsible for the audits of these estates (NEPCon). Once these investigative audits conclude we will post the results online.”

A spokesperson from Fairtrade International told SM: Fairtrade believes that all farmers and workers deserve to earn a decent living for what they produce. We are conducting a review of our tea standard this year and have also commissioned a living wage benchmark for Sri Lanka. Defining what a living wage would be in the region is urgently needed to bring stakeholders to the table to work towards more sustainable livelihoods for tea workers.”

The TRF investigated tea estates across the central district, and gathered seventeen worker payslips from nine Rainforest-certified tea estates, six of which were certified by Fairtrade.

Estate managers and workers revealed to the TRF that quota policies were implemented across the tea estates sanctioning workers by halving daily wages when they picked less than 18kg a day or arrived fifteen minutes late, according to TRF report. The deductions were in direct violation of labour laws, TRF said.

Tea giants, Unilever and Tetley (owned by Tata Global beverages), have also issued investigations to follow up on the findings, according to TRF. Transparency in the two company’s supply chains increased after their suppliers were made public after pressure from the Who picked my tea?” campaign by Traidcraft Exchange, following a similar investigation that revealed poor working conditions in certified and uncertified plantations in India.

A spokesperson from The Rainforest Alliance added: The Rainforest Alliance is continuously working to improve its certification programme. We have recently taken steps to increase the assurance mechanisms of audits including increased and regular unannounced audits. We are currently developing a new certification program and standard (following our recent merger with UTZ) which will be published later this year.”

4 Responses to “Sri Lanka tea plantations under investigation for labour rights”

  1. aloy Says:

    In fact our central highlands were once Rain Forests and they supplied Base Flow in the rivers throughout the year. Now the forests have gone and the Indians have taken over and no water in Kelani River to supply potable water. Even the Indian government has taken over the responsibility to cater for them in addition to what GOSL is doing. So they have become a privileged lot and get facilities that even the Sinhala estate workers will not get. Just a few minutes ago I was watching an event on TV where the government is providing some additional facilities to a Demala vidyalaya in Nuwara Eliya.

    The tea industry is becoming unsustainable as our per capita income goes up. I think these estate workers should be dispersed to other areas of economy such as Apparel Sector. Just this morning I was talking to a person involved in the apparel sector. He was telling me that we have started lose our niche market to countries like Ethiopia and Kenya where there is cheap labour. It seems even reputed companies are struggling due to this situation.
    The best thing these Rain Forest Foundations can do is to advise GOSL to move these workers out of central hill and put them where they think better facilities can be obtained instead of finding fault with estate companies.

  2. aloy Says:

    We must tell these bleeding hearts to go and see how our Sinhala women doing slavery in the Middle East to subsidize the salaries of these estate workers.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Tea plantations industry is a multiple disaster.

    It destroyed the environment, dried up water in the most important catchment areas, polluted the water, introduced a million Indians into this island and eats up billions of rupees of state subsidies to run.

    Labour cost in Sri Lanka is the highest in tea growing nations.

    This is an unsustainable industry.

    Tea plantations must be closed down and the land must go back to its rightful owners – upcountry Sinhalese. “Upcountry Tamils” must be repatriated back to India as per two international agreements we have with India.

  4. Christie Says:

    TATA is in action.

    Beaware of Indian conglomerates.

    They know how to destroy others.

    Tetley’s should be kicked out.

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