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10 Feb 2019

Swati Gupta, CNN

India: Pregnant women are risking their lives to bring people tea

"Pregnant women are risking their lives to bring people tea", 6 February 2019

Rama is...six months pregnant and increasingly worried about the health of her unborn child. [She] earns her living by picking tea leaves in India's north-eastern Assam state...Numerous neighbors have suffered complications while giving birth, she said, sometimes with fatal consequences for both mother and child. This is fueled by poor working and living conditions, prolonged working hours and minimal access to health care during pregnancy, say experts...

For every 100,000 live births in Assam state, 237 women die -- making this the most dangerous place in the country to give birth, according to government figures for the 2014-16 period...

The world's biggest tea companies, Hindustan Unilever Limited and Tata Global Beverages, source the tea for their international brands like Yellow Label [by Lipton Tea (part of Unilever)] and Tetley from [health and safety] accredited plantations. But they have other, local brands that are not fully sourced from Rainforest Alliance-accredited plantations, like Hindustan Unilever's Taj Mahal Tea.

A Hindustan Unilever spokesperson told CNN that 40% of its tea for the domestic Indian market comes from non-certified plantations...[Their] "...endeavour is to move [them] to sustainably sourced plantations by 2020."...[A] spokesperson for Tata Global Beverages told CNN, "In India, we are in the process of getting to 100% accreditation. Given the complexities in the supply chain, this is not a straightforward journey."...

One owner of a plantation visited by CNN...said his estate provides ambulances, medical vans and transport to hospitals for women when needed...The Indian Tea Association...told CNN that "workers are eligible for primary health care as per the Plantation Labour Act," with free medication provided to a worker and their family and maternity care provided to cover anemia treatment, immunization, institutional deliveries and mother and child care projects. 

Human rights lawyer, Jayshree Satpute, who works with local plantation workers, disputes the claims that the medical facilities are available to most female workers...