Unfree labour has been central to the Indian tea industry’s ‘business model’ since its establishment under British colonial rule. In this paper, we investigate forms of unfree labour in south Indian tea plantations based on a mixed methods study. Conceptualizing unfree labour in a multi-dimensional way our analysis brings to the fore how economic and social coercions that work on tea workers’ desire to guarantee their household’s daily and generational reproduction enable companies to control workers’ time, that way facilitating profit making in the global tea industry. Gender ideologies and hierarchies normalize these coercions for women workers. They translate into gendered obstacles to exit plantation employment and lead to long working hours for low pay. At the same time, we show that the desire of women and men to secure their families’ present and future livelihood also triggers and fuels unfree workers’ resistance.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by Fairtrade International [Grant Date 13-10-2015].
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.