Assam Tea: Oxfam Study on Working Conditions on Plantations

Two figures show how blatant the disproportion between the workers on Indian tea plantations and those who benefit from them: German supermarkets and tea traders retain about 86 percent of the sales price for Assam tea. For the workers remain 1.4 percent left – or about four cents from a three-euro pack of tea. This is the core message of the Oxfam study "Black Tea, White Vest". The other: People who work on the tea plantations often have to forego a decent life.


The development organization Oxfam regularly examines the complex food supply chains from the cultivation countries to German supermarkets. Whether it's bananas, wine, pineapple or Assam tea, it is almost always the case that companies in Germany do not sufficiently ensure that human rights and basic environmental standards are complied with along the supply chain. The current study confirms this with impressive examples.


The Indian state of Assam has been one of the world's most important tea growing regions for more than 160 years. The workers have often lived with their families on the plantations for generations. By law, the owners are responsible for providing access to education and health services for the working families and housing them. If a family member loses his job, the whole family loses it all. The plantation owners are therefore unlikely to expect resistance to poor working and living conditions.


interviewed 500 workers on 50 plantations


Oxfam commissioned an Indian research institute to interview workers in Assam. In total, more than 500 men and women were surveyed, working on one of 50 plantations studied. The answers show that humans are being exploited on several levels:



  • Each day they earn between 137 and 170 Indian rupees, equivalent to 1.73 euros to 2.14 euros. According to Oxfam, that's less than half of what Assam sees as a living wage.

  • 56 percent of workers do not have enough to eat, more than a quarter even gets less than 1,800 kilocalories a day, half of those polled receive government meal cards issued only to families below the poverty line.

  • There is usually no or deficient protective clothing on the plantations, workers are exposed to pesticides – more than half complain of eye irritation, respiratory problems and allergies.

  • There are no toilets on the tea plantations, the supply of clean drinking water is deficient, almost every second respondent suffers from jaundice, cholera or typhus.

  • Particularly women are women who make up the majority in the fields – more paid work in tea factories is more often done by men.


The tea trading companies and supermarkets in Germany generally rely on certifications in monitoring their suppliers, most of which comes from the UTZ / Rainforest Alliance organization in Assam. Oxfam also claims to have committed human rights violations on certified plantations in Assam. For German consumers it is hardly possible to determine the conditions under which their tea was grown – the big companies do not disclose their supply chains.


photo gallery


Oxfam study:
Under adverse conditions


Oxfam Calls for Supply Chain Law


The German market is essentially divided into four major players: just under 29 percent make up the private labels of supermarkets and discounters, almost 24 percent come from the company Teekanne, Messmer sells just under 22 percent and Milford sells another 13 percent. More than half of the tea is sold in Germany via the food retail trade.


Oxfam and many other environmental and development organizations, as well as unions and church organizations, have long been demanding from the federal government to pass a supply chain law. This would require the companies:



  • Issue a Declaration of Principles on Respect for Human Rights and Commit to Reporting Along the Guiding Principles

  • Identify Actually and Potentially Adverse Effects of Their Business on Human Rights

  • Take Measures to Prevent Such Effects and Verify Their Effectiveness

  • Build a functioning grievance mechanism and

  • report transparently on all these issues.


This would make companies responsible for the conditions along the value chain of their products. Finally, according to Oxfam, the companies also benefited the most. Of the three euros, which cost a package brand black tea with 50 teabags in Germany, remain 2.60 euros at supermarkets and manufacturers, 20 cents at the middlemen, 16 cents get the plantation owners and 4 cents the workers – their share, moreover, in stagnated for the past 14 years.

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