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Tea plantations in India employ more than a million permanent workers, and perhaps twice as many seasonal laborers. This makes the industry the largest private-sector employer in the country. But workers depend on plantations for more than just employment: millions of workers and their families live on the plantations, and rely on them for basic services, including food supplies, health care and education. Indian law has required plantation owners to provide these since the adoption of the Plantations Labour Act (PLA), soon after independence.

The Tata Group, one of India’s most powerful corporate entities, is also one of the most significant forces in the tea sector. Until recently, Tata operated a vertically integrated tea business, owning dozens of plantations, processing and packaging facilities, and major retail brands. In the mid-2000s, Tata reached out to the World Bank’s private investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and devised a complicated plan that would create a separate company to operate its extensive plantation operations in the states of Assam and West Bengal. The plan for the new company, Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd. (APPL), included employee share ownership and diversification "beyond tea". Under the plan, Tata would continue to support APPL for a period of "hand-holding," after which it would be spun off into a publicly traded company, allowing Tata to focus on marketing its existing retail brands and developing new ones.

This is a case study of APPL. It documents the conditions for APPL’s workers and their families on the plantations, evaluating them in the context of Indian law and international commitments. It is a detailed account of the persistence of abusive practices, and the failure to comply with the basic requirements of the PLA, 60 years after its passage. It is also a critical analysis of the transition from Tata Tea to APPL, and of the role played in that transition by the IFC and private organizations intended to promote decent labor standards.