Tea Workers in Bangladesh Battle Climate and Exploitation

Tea Workers in Bangladesh Battle Climate and Exploitation
Tea Worker, by Jessica Mudditt via Flickr, 2009


Alexandra Posta

East and South Asia Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence


In the heart of Sreemangal, Bangladesh, where lush tea plantations paint a tranquil picture, a stark reality unfolds daily. The global tea industry, employing approximately 13 million individuals in 48 countries, stands as a vital economic force. Yet, this powerful industry remains mired in an unsettling truth. Recent climate shifts have heightened the challenges faced by tea workers, (Connell, 10 August 2023). Rising temperatures and erratic rains disrupt their daily quotas of tea leaves, driving their meagre wages even lower. In a cruel twist, the changing climate renders their already difficult work near impossible (Connell, 10 August 2023).

As mercury levels rise, the vulnerability of these workers deepens. Their situation echoes the findings of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which highlights the dire consequences of heat stress. Notably, women bear the brunt due to the nature of their work and unique physical circumstances, including pregnancy (Connell, 10 August 2023; ILO, 18 May 2023). Amidst these hardships, a fundamental human rights issue looms large - the right to safe and fair working conditions, adequate wages, and protection against exploitation. Bangladesh's status as a signatory to international labour agreements emphasises the importance of adherence to these rights. However, the heat-induced struggles and dwindling wages of the tea workers expose a disconcerting gap in translating these rights into reality (Connell, 10 August 2023).

The hour is now for collective action to confront this brewing crisis. Supply chain transparency, or the lack thereof, remains a key obstacle. A recent report by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) underscores how opacity shields companies from accountability (Hillsdon, 12 June 2023). Urgent reforms are essential - engaging workers directly, bolstering labour rights, and fostering equitable conditions. Unionization progress offers hope, yet much remains to be achieved, including specialised support for pregnant workers and improved overall conditions. A just transition towards a sustainable, equitable economy is imperative. The global community must rise against exploitation, urging corporations to embrace transparency, uphold labour rights, and safeguard those who cultivate our daily cups of tea (Connell, 10 August 2023; Hillsdon, 12 June 2023).



Tula Connell. (10 August 2023). ‘THE WEIGHT OF THE HEAT’: CLIMATE CHANGE FURTHER BURDENS BANGLADESH TEA WORKERS. Solidarity Centre. Available at < https://www.solidaritycenter.org/the-weight-of-the-heat-climate-change-further-burdens-bangladesh-tea-workers/>.

ILO. (18 May 2023). When is it too hot to work? ILO. Available at < https://live.ilo.org/events/when-it-too-hot-work-2023-05-18>.

Mark Hillsdon. (12 June 2023). Society Watch: Tea firms urged to forge direct relations with workers amid rising labour abuse. Reuters. Available at < https://www.reuters.com/sustainability/society-equity/society-watch-tea-firms-urged-forge-direct-relations-with-workers-amid-rising-2023-06-12/?mc_cid=661cf05459&mc_eid=a11c7061d2>.