Many tea estates in Assam, India are not meeting the legal requirements set by Indian law to prevent and address cases of sexual harassment at the workplace. The Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund supports tea producers to rectify their mechanisms to enable them to prevent, protect and prohibit sexual harassment at work.
The Indian laws recognize that sexual harassment at work is a common experience of women, which impacts women’s work as well as wellbeing. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013 (POSH Act) of India requires all workplaces with more than 10 employees to have an internal committee to prevent and address cases of sexual harassment at the workplace.
The POSH Act provides clear and strict guidelines for employers to set up mechanisms towards prevention, protection, and prohibition of sexual harassment. Failing to implement and adhere to the law’s requirements can lead to cancellation of license and other penalties for the employer. However, due to lack of awareness or support, many employers are not fully compliant with the law. Internal committees can be set up, the formation and functioning of these may not be as per the legal requirement.
During discussions with tea estate management and existing internal committees, the Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund (WSAF) found that many estates did not meet the legal requirements to prevent and address cases of sexual harassment at the workplace. In many estates, the manager was the chair of the committee which is not recommended, or they did not have 50% women in their internal committees, some did not include an external member and most committees were not meeting quarterly or conducting trainings and awareness activities.
Most tea producers shared that they were not aware of the guidelines and with the support of WSAF have started correcting the gaps. In the estates that did not have a policy or an internal committee in place, WSAF has helped them to develop mechanisms to enable them to prevent, protect and prohibit sexual harassment at work.
Living and working conditions for the workers in the tea gardens of Assam are a concern for human rights indicators. Social impact programs initiated by businesses in the supply chain have been working towards addressing many concerns. WSAF understands that addressing GBV and sexual harassment is a collaborative and continuous effort. It requires collaboration between all stakeholders, learning from and supporting each other. In addition, it needs to put women and their safety at the center.