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World Bank inquiry into India's Tata Tea over labour issues

The World Bank is probing claims of poor wages and conditions for workers at Indian tea plantations that it finances with tea giant Tata Global Beverages, those involved said.

NEW DELHI: The World Bank is probing claims of poor wages and conditions for workers at Indian tea plantations that it finances with tea giant Tata Global Beverages, those involved said on Friday.

The bank's auditors are looking into plantations in northeastern India run by an US$87 million partnership between the bank's private investment branch, Tata, the world's second largest tea company, and others.

The venture, Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (AAPL), runs 25 plantations employing 31,000 workers in the states of Assam and some in neighbouring West Bengal.

AAPL confirmed the World Bank's Compliance Advisor Ombudsman was conducting the probe, following a complaint by rights groups 12 months ago. But it said workers' wages and conditions complied with all laws.

"Wages are paid as per industry agreements," AAPL spokesman Kaushik Biswas said in an email.

"Cash wage plus benefits total up to 189 rupees (US$3) per man (a) day," Biswas told AFP.

The World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) also said it believed standard industry practices were followed on the plantations.

The IFC added that it would "await the findings of the compliance investigation and will undertake relevant action steps to address identified issues."

The IFC pledged US$6.7 million in equity in 2009 to the AAPL, which is 41 per cent owned by Tata, with the rest held by other investors.

IFC saw an opportunity to "work with a long-term partner committed to improve sustainability and achieve positive development outcomes in the northeast India," it said in an email to AFP.

Tata, which owns the Tetley Tea brand, did not respond to requests for a comment on the matter.

Three non-governmental agencies from Assam filed a complaint on behalf of the workers in February last year to the bank, highlighting concerns about inadequate compensation, and poor health and hygiene conditions at the tea plantations.

The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman is compelled to review complaints filed about the IFC and other World Bank arms.

Last month, Columbia University in the United States published a report highlighting squalid living conditions of workers at plantations including some of those run by AAPL.

Researchers found open sewage flowing within a few feet of the doorstep of nearly every house on the plantations surveyed and complaints about a lack of access to clean water.

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