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Indian Tea Plantation’s Business Ethics


This paper is aimed at examining the investigation provided by the BBC that revealed shocking working and living conditions of tea plantation workers in Assam, India. The study focuses on ethical issues based on references. Moreover, two ethical theories, in particular, utilitarianism and deontological theories prove the necessity of the discovery of the topic. In addition, it seems appropriate to consider the responsibility of the companies. In this regard, Kline’s criteria are utilized. Finally, I would like to present specific possible solutions and recommendations and evaluate them. The total word count is 2175.

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The Ethical Issue of the Chosen Case

The BBC correspondents Justin Rowllat and Jane Death revealed some violations in tea plantation workers’ working and living conditions. For instance, they suffer from a lack of basic human needs. Assam workers do not have toilets and use bushes of tea as their toilets are overflowing (Rowlatt &Deith 2015). Workers are provided with straw huts with leaking roofs. They tend to be overcrowded due to the lack of space compared with the number of people. Speaking of water and sanitation, they have to rely on the river and other natural sources (Bhowmik 2015). Moreover, under the camera lens, there were children collecting leaves, in other words, child labor.

In spite of the fact that slavery was abolished almost a century ago, workers’ exploitation in the agriculture sector remains. For instance, families working in tea plantations continue to receive lower incomes. Precisely speaking, their payment consists of the minimum wage that is not enough even to meet the most basic needs (Chaudhuri 2015). Consequently, they are malnourished and have lower levels of education than other workers in the country. In addition to poor housing and sanitary conditions, the unprecedentedly widespread use of pesticides was detected. Much of the above is a violation of the Indian labor laws and standards International Labour Organization (ILO) (Pandey 2014).

Another confirmation of workers’ growing discontent is the occasion recently happened in India when workers of one of the plantations killed and ate a tea plantation owner and his wife (‘India Tea Workers Accused Of Cannibalism After Boss’s Murder’ 2013). Apparently, the reason for such a bloody rebellion was poor working conditions: the work was poorly paid, their rights were not protected, and they have to live in miserable shacks. No doubt that there is no excuse for such an appalling act. However, it corroborates the fact that those issues are essential to resolve as soon as possible.

Among the well-known manufacturers of tea brands involved in those issues, one might note Lipton, PG Tips, Tetley, and Twinings which expressed their intention to raise standards taking appropriate actions in a timely manner. The other stakeholder group is organizations connected with labor protection including the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), Tata, and Rainforest Alliance. They are struggling for the improvement of workers’ quality of life. They have responsibility for stakeholder groups that include managers, founders, holders of shares of the company, suppliers, trade unions, regional communities, trade unions, and employees. In other words, the category includes all people who could affect the company to some extent.

Two Ethical Theories to Justify Why those Issues are Important

To begin with, it seems appropriate to define the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The international understanding of CSR is treated as a business contribution to the development of society in social, economic, and environmental spheres associated with the primary business of the company in the framework of the specific legal minimum. Issues of business ethics are socially important and on the agenda of plenty of companies. In particular, problems of plantation workers are mainly generated by the indifference of the government, both state and central to the basic needs of human beings. Plantation companies are also “guilty” of creating this situation (Ghose & Phil 2012). Besides, workers’ organizations and trade unions are controlled by leaders who do not belong to these communities and cannot express workers’ aspirations.

It is very essential to note that business ethics is based on the general universal ethics (to be honest, to do no harm, to keep the word, and others) that are specified by taking into account the precise social role of business in society. Therefore, business ethics is a set of rules, norms, and laws that should be a guide for the company in the process of communication, decision-making, and conducting business activity. Forming business ethics, it is significant to establish social relationships, when the external environment and the representatives of the company are in conditions of mutual respect. The principal task of the company is to minimize any ethical breaches that occur in the course of work.

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In this case, it seems obvious that plenty of aspects of business ethics were violated. Moreover, the ethical theory of deontological ethics or ethics of duty justifies that those issues deserve attention. Central to this approach is the concept of rights. Rights are a powerful tool of social regulations, as its purpose is to provide the individual with free choice of occupation and to ensure its protection. The most prominent among the various types of rights are so-called moral rights (or human rights).

All people possess those rights as they are all human beings. In this regard, one might mention the abuse of human rights to receive appropriate wages, to have proper housing, and a safe working environment. Additionally, the utilitarianism theory confirms the importance of those issues. According to the generalized form of utilitarianism principle, any act is lawful from an ethical point of view if and only if the total useful effect of this action exceeds the total helpful effect of any other action that might have been committed instead of acting first (Schwartz 2011). The action is considered morally justifiable in the case if it eventually leads to the most beneficial effect. However, as it was mentioned in the article, there is no benefit for workers.

Therefore, it is of great importance to consider the described issues in detail.

Kline’s Criteria to Explain Why Companies Named in this Case should Take Responsibility

In order to determine the necessity of the company’s responsibility, it seems useful to apply Kline’s criteria. Evaluation criteria of the corporate social responsibility could vary depending on several factors. For example, among them, there is the region in which the company operates, its size, structure, environment, and others. The criteria could be a security assessment of the environment, the quality of produced goods and services, relationships with employees, workers’ living and working environment. “Awareness and knowledge are two other factors used to determine degrees of ethical responsibility,” states Kline (2010, p. 15).

Firstly, a socially responsible business has more favorable long-term prospects. Improving the lives of people in a particularly profitable enterprise participates in public life. More prosperous from the social point of view the company has more favorable conditions for business. In addition, it forms an attractive image of the company. Therefore, even if the short-term costs of social activity are high, they could stabilize profits at the end.

Secondly, the manifestation of the social responsibility of the company meets the expectations of the public opinion. The involvement of companies in the solution of social problems reflects companies’ attitude towards their workers. It is expected that the companies would transfer a part of their social needs because they possess considerable financial resources.

Thirdly, it is important that the moral obligation of corporations is to behave in a socially responsible way. The company is a member of society; as a result, moral norms should also control its behavior. Furthermore, since laws cannot cover all situations, companies should assume responsible behavior to maintain a society based on the rule of law.

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Additionally, all the companies are responsible for respect for human rights. Perhaps most importantly, consumers, investors, and public authorities are insistently demanding higher environmental sustainability and social responsibility than pushing companies to carry out significant and far-reaching reforms (Schwartz 2011).

According to that principles, the company should regularly conduct due to the diligence aimed at ensuring respect for human rights and try to minimize any negative consequences of their actions or relations including the supply system. To meet requirements, companies should develop and adopt strategies and procedures to identify risks of rights violations human and management, to cooperate with relevant suppliers, shareholders, and government agencies, as well as create mechanisms for filing complaints to eliminate any violations.

Possible Solutions and Recommendations

The modern world lives in conditions of acute social problems. In this regard, the significance of corporate social responsibility of business organizations is associated with the development, manufacture, and supply of products and services, trade, and finance, as they have basic financial and material resources that allow working for the solution of global social problems. Understanding business leaders of its key values and the leading role in this work led to the birth in the late 20th century, the concept of corporate social responsibility, which has become an essential part of the concept of sustainable development of not only business but also humanity as a whole.

The implementation of the corporate social responsibility policy is a factor that increases the profitability of companies. In its turn, companies address investors, governments, and society to clarify the impact of its central production upon the surrounding world (Parboteeah & Cullen 2012).

Today the concept of CSR is seriously expanded. Now it does not matter what companies are doing with the money that they have earned and how they earned that money. In the first place, there is a concern for employees. Advantages that give companies the realization of corporate responsibility strategies include increasing staff satisfaction, reducing employee turnover, and increasing brand value. Companies that do not join are missing a business opportunity, losing competitiveness, and lag in management. Not implementing CSR strategy, they are, firstly, do not monitor or control the impact of its production on the social and environmental sectors, and secondly, do not realize their economic potential. In the framework of the report, it seems important to point out some possible solutions to the considered issue.

First of all, company management should organize the formation of special committees on business ethics (Bowie 2013). In such structures, there are representatives of the company’s senior managers (executives, owners, managers of large level). The task of this body is serving as a conscience of the organization. If questions concerning ethics appear, then such a committee is empowered to make the decision. Besides, the committee should control and prevent the violation of workers’ rights.

Second, the development of business ethics standards is a considerable and integral part of the company management (Morrison 2015). In this case, the company manufactures the position that describes the values and rules of etiquette within the company. In particular, it should prohibit any fraudulent transactions, extortion, violation of the laws, exploitation, child labor creating adequate living and working conditions. In particular, provide rationing work organization, decent wages and ensuring the availability of a sense of security and confidence in the future, social benefits expressed in the long-term employment. Such rules might be of different names while the essence remains the same.

Third, the social audit seems to be beneficial as well. From time to time, some reports should be compiled and exhibited to the public (Godwyn 2015). The problems of implementing social responsibility programs, ethical business, relationships of employees and employers, decision-making in the field of management, and other aspects should be enlightened. Drawing up such reports is the obligation of independent organizations (TV, magazines, newspapers, etc.). The BBC research under analysis is a good example of the corresponding solution.

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Thus, the suggested set of possible solutions would enhance the current state of plantation workers in Assam, India.

Critical Evaluation of Suggested Solutions

I consider that these proposals are very important for plantation workers because their provision is aimed at improving the social conditions of workers, who are isolated and cut off from the world outside the plantation. Given the fact that the plantation workers cannot have access to basic human facilities, employers should provide adequate housing for employees and their families, to provide applicable sanitation facilities and drinking water along with hospitals.

Nevertheless, most of these provisions had not realized. At the same time, the suggested social innovations introduced in the framework of CSR strategies, would not only allow companies to demonstrate their civic position but also become a powerful marketing tool enabling them to develop their products and trends, to create an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer thus contributing to the growth of loyalty. What is more, it would create loyalty of company workers as well.

Therefore, in my point of view, the above measures should be taken into account to improve the quality of life of workers and their overall satisfaction.

In conclusion, it should be stressed that the research conducted by the BBC revealed the appalling working and living conditions of Indian tea plantation workers and called corresponding companies to the responsibility. This report provided an analysis of the investigation and suggested some recommendations in the framework of corporate social responsibility.


Bowie, N 2013, Business Ethics in the 21st Century, Springer, Minneapolis.

Bhowmik, S 2015, ‘Living Conditions of Tea Plantation Workers’, Economic & Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 2, pp. 29-32.

Chaudhuri, M 2015, ‘Tea Gardens in the East Are Brewing Starvation, Malnutrition’,

The Wire. 2015. Web.

Ghose, S & Phil, M 2012, ‘A look into Corporate Social Responsibility in Indian and emerging economies’, International Journal of Business and Management Invention, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 22-29.

Godwyn, M 2015, Ethics and Diversity in Business Management Education, Springer, Berlin.

‘India Tea Workers Accused Of Cannibalism After Boss’s Murder’, 2013, The World Post. Web.

Kline, J 2010, Ethics for International Business: Decision-Making in a Global Political Economy, 2nd and, Routledge, New York.

Morrison, J 2015, Business Ethics: New Challenges in a Globalised World, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Pandey, S 2014, ‘India’s starving tea-garden workers’, Aljazeera.

Parboteeah, P & Cullen, J 2012, Business Ethics, Routledge, London.

Rowlatt, J &Deith, J 2015,The bitter story behind the UK’s national drink’, BBC News. 

Schwartz, M 2011, Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach, Broadview Press, Ontario.

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