Undercover investigators reveal shocking conditions on Assam tea estates supplying UK

22 May 2018

The women who pick the tea we drink in the UK are subjected to poverty wages and appalling living conditions according to new evidence obtained by the international development charity Traidcraft Exchange.

Timed to coincide with the launch of its ‘Who picked my tea?’ campaign designed to drive up standards, ‘The Estate They’re In’ sets out evidence gathered by undercover investigators who visited tea estates in Assam, India which are believed to be supplying the big UK brands.

The owners of tea estates have a legal duty to provide ‘in kind’ benefits to their workforce including housing, schools and health facilities under Indian law, as well as a cash wage.

But evidence gathered by investigators working for Traidcraft Exchange found that: 

  • A culture of surveillance and control by management goes unchecked
  • Wages – agreed across the Assam tea sector – are below Assam and Indian minimum wage levels with workers paid just 137 rupees (about £1.50) per day
  • Housing is often leaky and in a state of disrepair
  • Sanitation is minimal or non-existent with open defaecation the norm when working 
  • Local health facilities often lack medicines and staff and better ones are far away
  • Food rations are insufficient and of poor quality

“The women who pick the tea we drink live in appalling conditions and are paid pitifully low wages by tea estates in Assam,” said Fiona Gooch, Senior Policy Adviser for Traidcraft Exchange. 

Tea remains one of the most popular drinks in the UK with 165 million cups drunk every day.

The ‘Big 6’ UK brands – PG Tips, Twinings, Tetley, Yorkshire, Typhoo, and Clipper – together comprise about 70% of the UK tea market with annual sales of around £500 million. 

All 6 UK brands were contacted prior to the publication of ‘The Estate They’re In’ and none of them disputed the fact that they use tea grown in Assam as part of some of their blends.

As a first step Traidcraft Exchange is calling on the big UK brands to be transparent about which tea estates they buy from to help drive improvements. 

“Publishing their list of suppliers would mean that consumers – and more importantly women workers in Assam – could hold tea estates to account,” added Fiona Gooch.


For more information or to interview Fiona Gooch contact Tom Sharman:
tom.sharman@traidcraft.org or 0191 497 3983 or 07757 753 318

Notes for editors:

  • Traidcraft Exchange is an international development charity which uses the power of trade to bring about lasting solutions to poverty. It runs development programmes in South Asia and Africa, works directly with businesses to improve their supply chains, and does advocacy and campaigning in the UK to promote justice and fairness in international trade. It works closely with specialist fair trade company Traidcraft plc. Traidcraft Exchange is a registered charity, no. 1048752: https://www.traidcraft.org.uk/ 
  • ‘The Estate They’re In: how the tea industry traps women in poverty in Assam’ can be downloaded here: https://www.traidcraft.org.uk/tea-report 
  • Photos are available to illustrate the story – please contact Tom Sharman
  • The ‘Who picked my tea?’ campaign calls on the big UK tea brands to start being transparent about which tea estates they buy from: https://www.traidcraft.org.uk/tea
Tom Sharman