1st International Tea Day: New Delhi Declaration on the Rights of Tea Workers

The declaration was adopted in New Delhi on December 15, 2005 at the end of an international two-day consultation. The delegates were worker leaders and small tea growers’ representatives from various tea-growing countries namely Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Malawi, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam.

New Delhi. December 15, 2005

Recognising that the tea sector, among the highest employment provider, sustains more than 10 million people as workers, majority women, and small growers globally;

Acknowledging that these are located in the developing countries, which are most vulnerable to the current forms of global trade;

Recognising that tea, along with other tree top crops like coffee, cocoa, rubber, is the major foreign exchange earner for some of the
producing countries;

Recognising that tea workers, in many countries, are the emigrant population of different ethnicities and religious minorities from most vulnerable sections of society, and small growers are subsistent farmers;

Acknowledging that there is disproportionate value accrual at the higher end of the value chain which is never passed on to the consumers and producers and workers;

Realising that the concentration of power by brands and retailers is increasing the deprivation and vulnerability of the primary producers and workers;

Recognising the unprecedented and prolonged fall in prices of the primary commodity, market manipulation, and in the context of reorganisation of the industry and global trade under WTO;

Recognising that the burden of ‘crisis’ in tea industry is unjustifiably passed on to workers and small growers, which is not reflected in the profitability of the industry;

Realising that the governments are abdicating their responsibilities in the regulation of production, pricing of tea and the welfare of workers and small growers;

Believing that the tea industry can sustain its workers and producers and acknowledging the need for a global response;

In continuation with the international meetings of tea workers and small growers held in Mumbai (January 2004) and Porto Allegre (January 2005), The tea worker and small grower representatives from Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam assembled at Hotel Hill View Surajkund, (December 13-14, 2005) deliberated on the worsening situation of tea workers and small growers and arrived at the following declaration;


1. Women in Tea Plantation

  1. The exclusions and extreme exploitations of women workers, who constitute more than 50 percent of the workforce in the tea sector, shall be stopped forthwith.
  2. Women workers should have equal wages and service conditions and equal opportunities in all negotiations and decision-making processes.
  3. All the decisions taken by the trade unions as well as tripartite fora should be gender-sensitive and they should promote women’s leadership at all levels of decision-making.
  4. Special effort should be made to ensure education of women and girl children.
  5. Employment and income security for women workers should be protected.
  6. Specific problems as relates to women such as sexual harassment should be firmly dealt with.
  7. Plantation should stop the use of harmful weedicides and herbicides which affect the health of women workers.
  8. We affirm that the women tea workers have the control of their reproductive rights.
  9. Government should establish gender health desk to address gender issues.

2. Wages

  1. We affirm the principle of living wages.
  2. In no situation should the wages be less than the minimum wages, which should not be linked to prices of tea; the increase in wages/ allowance linked to cost of living should be ensured.
  3. We affirm that the collective bargaining and tripartite negotiation as the basis for wage determination.
  4. The process of wage determination should be scientific, democratic, participatory and transparent.
  5. Equal wage for men and women for equal work.
  6. The industry shall not reduce negotiated wages and other benefits.
  7. The employers and the state should desist from and prevent the increasing non-compliance of statutory obligations, benefits and rights.

3. Social Security

  1. The right of joint ownership/ownership to homestead land of tea workers is essential to remove all vestiges of unfreedom from the tea gardens.
  2. In the current context of increasing insecurity, social security mechanism of tea garden workers should be strengthened, and for this purpose special agencies, implementation mechanism and a fund, be created and in the implementation and monitoring of which, trade unions be involved.
  3. The small growers and their workers (including migrant and local) should be brought within the social security net.
  4. There should be improvement and not any attempt to deny or dilute the existing social security measures, including to those under outsourcing or sub-contracted agencies.

4. Employment Security

  1. Considering the increasing instances of closures, abandonment and diversification of tea estates and factories, in many countries, governments should establish
    1. tripartite regulatory mechanisms for the closure of gardens
    2. institutional support for workers takeover through workers’ cooperative with state assistance
    3. rehabilitation of displaced workers into decent working situations
  2. The sub-leasing, contracting and subcontracting of land and other assets in tea gardens should be stopped forthwith. The workers in the subleased or contracted out gardens and out-growers should get all the benefits as applicable to regular workers. The principal employer should be responsible for the wages and social security of the existing subleased, contracted- out gardens and out-growers.

5. Labour Rights

  1. We reaffirm that the trade union rights are the universal human rights which should be respected by all.
    1. Right to organise and collective bargaining including right to strike
    2. Elimination of child labour
    3. No discrimination of any form, particularly based on gender, caste, ethnicity and religion
    4. No forced labour
  2. These are the basic human rights which are articulated under the ILO Declaration on the Fundamental Rights and Principles at Work.
  3. Trade union rights should not be violated under any circumstances.
  4. We affirm the principle of Decent Work and standards as defined by the ILO.

6. Workers’ International Interests

  1. We call upon the governments and international agencies (UNCTAD & FAO) to facilitate the creation of an International Tea Commission to promote and strengthen the tea industry, with specific provisions to protect the interests of tea workers and small growers.
  2. Any multi-lateral/regional/bi-lateral agreement among the tea growing countries should have inbuilt provisions and mechanisms to protect and promote the interests of tea workers of the member countries.
  3. The tea producing governments should not encourage trade policies including tariff reduction, resulting in unethical and unhealthy competitiveness among these countries and large-scale unemployment.

7. Tea Small Growers

  1. The tea small growers should get remunerative prices for green leaf, which ensures decent livelihood.
  2. Government should extend support and subsidy to the small tea growers.
  3. Fixation of price of green leaf should be scientific, transparent and with the involvement of small growers.
  4. Not to encourage child labour either directly or concealed under family employment.
  5. The formation of association of small growers and strengthening the existing ones – locally, nationally and internationally is to be encouraged.
  6. The small growers should be encouraged to explore alternative market intervention strategies. g. Small tea growers should have a separate authority.
  7. It is desired that the small growers have share in the company to which they sell their leaf/ participate in the management of companies.

8. Occupational Safety and Health

  1. The tea industry should maintain a safe and hygienic working environment and enterprises should provide free and appropriate protective clothing and equipment in accordance with the health and safety standards as prescribed under law and/or agreements, and relevant ILO Convention so as to ensure the protection of the workers, the community and the consumers.
  2. Regular health monitoring of workers engaged in handling of chemicals should be done.
  3. Those handling agro-chemicals should be adequately trained in storage, application and disposal. Information in this regard should be provided to the workers in the local language.
  4. In the use of toxic or carcinogenic pesticides and chemicals and protection of the environment, the producers should conform to the prescribed international standards (WHO-I).
  5. The Maximum Residue Levels should be observed to protect the interests of the consumers and be subjected to a uniform international standard that should be established by an appropriate international agency.

9. General

  1. The State should create effective regulatory and monitoring authority for tea and other similarly placed primary commodities.
  2. Respective governments should support and render financial assistance towards rejuvenation and re-plantation of tea bushes so as to increase productivity.

10. The Next Steps Resolutions

  1. The International Tea Conference calls upon the entire working people, small commodity producers and consumers to extend their support and solidarity to the tea workers and small tea growers in realising the objectives, demands and proposals contained in this declaration.
  2. This Conference further resolves to carry on an effective campaign, as deemed fit in each country, in order to realise these objectives and take these up in the appropriate fora including the respective governments for achieving the contents of the declaration.
  3. We reaffirm the call of the International Tea Day on December 15 and resolve to observe it in the subsequent years.



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