Twinings, Taylors of Harrogate and Fortnum & Mason have put a stop to their business with one Indian supplier over the state of its working conditions.
These three UK-based companies have expressed grave concerns about the health and safety protections for workers at Assam Company’s north-east Indian estate. The Rainforest Alliance has taken away the plantation’s previous endorsements as “it was found to be in breach of critical criteria relating to the use of personal protective equipment,” according to an alliance statement. Decertification by the Rainforest Alliance automatically results in a suspension of certification from the Ethical Tea Partnership.
The Assam Company is defending itself against the charges, stating that they were due to a “minor error.” They state that workers at the Hajua estate did not believe protective equipment was required for application of a particular chemical, yet the decertification was for all their estates. BBC reporters observed in a September report that a chemical was being sprayed without protections and workers described difficulty breathing, facial and hand numbness, and significant skin irritation.
The BBC also found poor sanitation practices and worker houses in disrepair. Assam Company stated that repairs on housing are always slated for December to March, when the tea harvest is completed.
Taylors of Harrogate hopes to work with the company to achieve better work standards. Twinings has committed to further reviews of other suppliers to ensure good conditions. Fortnum & Mason has stated that they will not work with the Assam Company again until it regains its Ethical Tea Partnership certification.
Assam Company was not the only tea company to have drawn Rainforest Alliance attention recently. McLeod Russel’s Moran and Behora estates was also far behind in housing and sanitation repairs. They have been given two months to meet standards. Those estates supply tea used to make PG Tips (Unilever) and Tetley (Tata).