'7p an hour tea workers shame stores'

23 July 2010 - 12:51pm
Press release

NEWS PEG: Monday, 26 July 2010 Storm over poverty pay for Indian tea workers supplying UK supermarkets in the week David Cameron visits India

EMBARGO: 00.01 hrs BST, Monday, 26 July 2010

Cameron faces call for action on India trip

Millions of tea drinkers in Britain are today warned that their breakfast cuppa may come from Indian workers toiling for 7p an hour – well below a living wage.

This warning comes from the charity War on Want as UK prime minister David Cameron and business secretary Vince Cable prepare for a trip to India this week.

Research published by War on Want shows that workers in northern India earn just £15.45 (1,220 rupees) a month, compared to a living wage of at least 3,500 rupees (£44.34) a month.

Though Indian plantation workers are entitled to a day's paid leave for every 20 days worked, staff interviewed for War on Want's report were denied this right.

Growing use of temporary contracts also means that plantations do not have to give benefits such as medical facilities, maternity leave and food rations.

Malnutrition is rife and medical studies have found 60 per cent of children in Indian tea estates are underweight.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "When Cameron visits India he will be confronted with the dire poverty that faces millions of Indians. The UK government has a duty to ensure fair treatment for the workers who supply our tea. It must not allow this exploitation to continue."

The report – A Bitter Cup - also shows tea factory workers in central Kenya supplying British supermarkets toil up to 74 hours a week for a mere £39.52 (5,000 Kenyan shillings) a month – half a living wage.

After three months Kenyan workers are entitled to permanent contracts, with benefits including sick pay, maternity or paternity leave, and paid annual holidays. But factory staff are routinely laid off before this period expires and then rehired, losing these benefits.

Kenyan tea pickers interviewed were even worse off than factory workers, earning on average only £24.18 (3,060 shillings) a month, far below a living wage. Pickers work long hours on their feet all day, with heavy baskets on their backs, often in harsh weather.

One Kenyan picker, Jane, a mother of two children, says: "I do not know what I will do when I get old. What can I hope for?"

Supermarkets account for over 80% of all tea bought in Britain. Yet the people who pick the tea at source get just 1p from every £1.60 box of tea bags sold.


  • It is co-published with Unite the union and the IUF, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations.
  • Case studies on Kenyan tea workers below.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728



Jane, a Kenyan tea picker, toils long hours on her feet all day, with a heavy basket on her back, often in harsh weather.

Tea pickers like her face exposure to pesticides and insecticides, are prone to injuries or illness, and typically allowed no breaks.

She says: "When you are working there, you go hungry and have nothing to drink. You starve, you are exhausted."

Jane has two children aged 14 and 12, and like most workmates receives no sick pay or pension as the farmer employs her on a day-to-day basis rather than on a permanent contract.

Jane earns only £20 (2,500 shillings) a month – a quarter of a living wage - and must raise further cash by keeping chickens to make ends meet.

Even with these two incomes, she struggles to raise her family after paying for rent, food and school fees.

Jane adds: "One of the problems is that you do not get any pay for the day you miss your work - even when you fall sick.

"I do not know what I will do when I get old. It is a problem on my mind when I go to pick tea. What can I hope for?"


John, married with three children, toils in a Kenyan tea factory.

John has been worked there for more than nine years, but receives barely £40 (5,000 shillings) a month.

John must toil from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm, and sometimes as late as 11.00 pm, but earns no extra pay for overtime.

John battles to survive by gaining more cash from a small plot of land where he keeps two cows and grows vegetables.

"The salary is very small – hardly enough to cater for my family's needs," he says. "The hardships we are experiencing are many."

He also cites deafening noise from the factory machines and sickness through inhaling dust from the tea leaves – chest infections and flu.

"If you get an accident while on duty as a casual worker, they take you to hospital, but you pay the hospital bill."


This webpage has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this webpage are the sole responsibility of War on Want and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.


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