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Twinings reveals suppliers amid drive for slave-free Indian tea

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Tea firm Twinings published a list of the Indian plantations it buys from on Monday, citing the need for transparency to improve conditions in an industry experts say is rife with abuse.

[LONDON] Tea firm Twinings published a list of the Indian plantations it buys from on Monday, citing the need for transparency to improve conditions in an industry experts say is rife with abuse.

India's tea industry, the world's second largest, employs 3.5 million workers and studies have found many live in appalling conditions, below the poverty line.

"Workers on India's tea estates often struggle with low pay and poor conditions," said Nick Knightley at Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a British-based group that works to improve the lives of workers who make consumer goods.

"Greater transparency from brands means greater scrutiny and accountability," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It means exploitation has fewer places to hide."

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Many women working on plantations in the northeastern state of Assam, where Twinings sources much of its tea, earn a "pitiful" US$2 a day and live in "appalling" conditions, found a report from Traidcraft Exchange in May.

The British charity launched the campaign 'Who picked my tea?' to bring about change for plantation workers in Assam through increased transparency.

Bettys & Taylors Group, which owns brands including Yorkshire Tea, in June became the first major British company to publish their full list of tea suppliers.

"Twinings' move puts pressure on the other big tea brands – PG Tips, Tetley, Typhoo, and Clipper - to follow suit and publish their lists of suppliers in full," said Fiona Gooch, a senior policy advisor at Traidcraft Exchange.

It comes as major brands face mounting regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure their products are free of slavery and abusive practices.

Some Indian plantations certified as slavery-free are nonetheless abusing and underpaying their workers, according to a study by Britain's Sheffield University.

Cut-price fashion chain Primark, which like Twinings is owned by the Associated British Foods group, earlier this year published details of all the factories it sources from.

Twinings says it works to ensure all its suppliers meet ethical standards and also runs programmes to help communities around plantations, including installing clean water supplies and sanitation and helping children access education.

"Transparency is part of the journey to improving the lives of tea communities we are sourcing from and is important to drive the change we all aspire to see," a spokeswoman said.

Knightley, who works on food and farming at ETI, said simply shining a light would not be enough to ensure all tea plantation workers got a fair deal.

Brands must put pressure on suppliers to ensure workers were free to unionise and demand better conditions, he said.

REUTERS