19 FEBRUARY 2024

We, civil society representatives and labour rights activists from various South Asian nations convened at the World Social Forum 2024 in Kathmandu, Nepal with our collective focus on the challenges faced by workers in the tea and ready-madegarment sectors, that have been significant contributors to the South Asian economy. While acknowledging the significance of minimum wage as a pivotal public policy tool safeguarding labour right, we denounce the meagre minimum wage, which falls significantly below the market rate and proves nearly ineffective in ensuring decent living condition to workers. Arbitrarily set minimum wages, disconnected from the actual cost of living and oblivious to the overlapping crises disproportionately affecting workers, are unacceptable. Therefore, we assert our demand for a living wage, meticulously calculated to reflect the real cost of maintaining a nominal standard of living, that workers truly deserve. The present state of affairs demands a radical departure from a system where workers bear the brunt of sacrifices for the sake of industry profitability. Rather, they deserve a fair and equitable share of the industry’s returns. Brands must shoulder their fair share of responsibility by ensuring fair wages, and regulations should be enacted to enforce this commitment, transcending nonbinding voluntary codes or corporate social responsibility initiatives.

We express our deep concern that workers remain unrecognized and lack written contracts, thereby being denied access to social security entitlements. In addition, workers, despite contributing for generations, a phenomenon especially prevalent in the plantation sector, find themselves devoid of any resources. We vehemently denounce any mechanism that perpetuates such indentured labour conditions. We resolutely call for the secured land and homestead rights for tea plantation workers and smallholder farmers. We further denounce the insufficient protection of women’s reproductive and maternity rights, despite their significant involvement in the tea and garment industry. We urge increased state engagement to reform current laws and policies, ensuring equal pay for equal work, women’s access to resources, protecting them against gender-based violence, and emphasizing the pressing need to recognize and prioritize care work. We take serious note of the outgrower and other recent business models that are promoted by the companies, which strips the workers of their entitlements and push them towards precarity. Amidst such ongoing informalization of the industry, we recognize the need for renewed efforts for organizing workers at the national, regional, and global levels to build effective alliances for reclaiming what rightfully belongs to the workers. The rights of workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining are to be ensured. Long live the united workers’ struggle! Workers united cannot be defeated!


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