The negative environmental impacts of tea production are centred around the fact that, in some cases, tea plantations have become monocultures. Large forested areas have been deforested in order to grow more tea. This disturbs natural flows of water and increases soil erosion which then pollutes rivers and lakes and leads to the loss of wetland habitats.
Monocultures create perfect conditions for pests and thus pesticides are needed. This spraying of pesticides affects the soil fertility which can then require fertilisers to help alleviate these issues, causing a never-ending cycle of agrochemicals. The pesticides also affect the surrounding ecosystem with runoff.
Furthermore, clearing forests and grasslands for tea monocultures has resulted in the loss of habitat for many species, which in turn has reduced the biodiversity of these ecosystems. For instance, habitat loss has drastically reduced the number of Lion Tailed Macaque in India which is on the IUCN’s Red List of endangered species.
The energy footprint of processing and consuming tea also has a large impact. For instance, in some regions in India, firewood is used to dry the tea: the most energy-intensive element of tea processing. The use of such firewood has contributed to deforestation as workers find the wood in natural forests.
The wages of tea workers are traditionally low and often fail to meet workers’ basic needs. Despite meeting minimum wage legal requirements, these are not realistic living wages. As a result of such low wages in the Assam region (12p an hour), parents have had no choice but to traffic their girls out of the region as they cannot afford to raise them.
There are reports of abuses of women’s rights among the tea picking workforce. With little privacy in the dormitories, women, who make up 75-85% of the workforce, have been subject to higher risks of sexual harassment.
As outlined in the BBC Sounds podcast, workers in the Assam region are exposed to pesticides through spraying and have experienced debilitating illnesses as a cause of this. Furthermore, the podcast also sheds light on the type of accommodations available to workers, with some lacking electricity and many lacking latrines or other forms of toilets with sanitary functions.