Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bitter Tea, Common Threads

TEA plantation workers near Darjeeling

TEA workers employed by a giant company with world-wide sales are waging a struggle for basic human rights and decent treatment.

Workers on the Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate in West Bengal, India protested over the treatment of a tea plucker in an advanced stage of pregnancy who was denied maternity leave and forced to work. Management tried to starve them into submission by denying all wages and rations for 3 months. Criminal charges carrying lengthy prison sentences have been filed against 12 workers - including the pregnant woman who collapsed in the field and was denied immediate medical care.

Two workers, including her father, have been sacked from their jobs. And management continues to reject the union's long standing demands, responding instead with more threats.

Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate is owned by Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, a company 49% owned by Tata Global Beverages, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of India’s powerful Tata Group conglomerate.

Tata's Tetley Tea is 100% Tata-owned, and sources tea from Amalgamated - though not, it claims, from Nowera Nuddy, an argument it has employed to excuse itself from responsibility for brutal management practices at Nowera Nuddy. Tetley is the second biggest-global tea brand, and a leading member of the UK's Ethical Tea Partnership.

International union web-site:

Meanwhile, across the border in Bangladesh it has now been more than five weeks since the illegal arrest of Moshrefa Mishu, President of the Garment Workers Unity Forum.

There was no warrant for her arrest at the time that heavily-armed plainclothes officers took her off to jail, where she remains - in poor health and badly treated. Her real crime was leading a protest campaign to demand the implementation of the legal minimum wage.

For more information about Moshrefa Mishu and her case, and ways to protest her treatment, see

Garment trade employers in Bangladesh are their country's main exporter, but claim they have been under pressure from even cheaper competitors in places like Cambodia . So it is timely to note that Cambodian garment workers are also engaged in struggle.

Over 300 have been sacked after they went on strike last September, asking for a wage increase that would ensure basic provisions such as sufficient nutrition and shelter. Well known brands such as Gap, Zara and H&M source from a large number of the involved factories.

Campaigners are urging that these workers are allowed to return to work immediately, with compensation paid for the time they have been dismissed:

And the Cambodian embassy in London might want to hear from you, as it already has been doing from Brent Trades Union Council, since it is in that borough. (see

Royal Cambodian Embassy in the UK,
64, Brondesbury Park,
Willesden Green,
London NW6 7AT
020 8451 7850
Fax 020 8451 7594

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