Safety + Health for All Plantation Workers in South Asia


Plantations play a critical role in many developing and emerging economies with large rural sectors. Plantations crops and in particular tea, coconut, rubber and cardamom are important agriculture subsectors in South Asia. India is the second largest tea producer in the world, Sri Lanka is the fourth and Nepal is the 21st producer.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) is a major area of concern for the actors in the plantations sector, in particular chemical and biological hazards resulting from the use of agro-chemicals with little or inadequate protection and scarce access to proper water and sanitation. These conditions have contributed to a lack of investment in workers’ living and working conditions, leading to serious social issues and negative health and safety impacts on workers and their family.


In line with the recommendations and suggestions provided by the constituents, under the global ILO’s flagship programme Safety + Health for All, a sub-regional project was launched targeting Plantation Workers in South Asia. This project, funded by the Japanese government, aims at improving OSH conditions of the workers in the plantation sector in south Asia covering India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

The ILO project focuses on three objectives:
  • Generate and share knowledge on constraints and opportunities to improve the safety and health of workers and prevention discrimination in the plantation sector in South Asia;
  • Strengthen national and local institutions to better promote and protect the safety and health of plantation workers in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka;
  • Develop or strengthen workplace and industry level practices and initiatives to promote the safety and health of workers, in the plantation sector in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, notably through improved representation (including ‘voice’) of workers in the smallholdings and of women workers.
The levels of intervention will span across enterprises or workplaces to sector-wide to national and sub-regional institutions, mechanisms and processes. Interventions will take place in both the formalised estates and more informalized smallholdings in agricultural sector, mainly plantation of tea, cardamom, rubber and coconut. Specific focus will also be given to promoting prevention and mitigation of the COVID-19 crisis.

Stakeholders and beneficiaries

The project will target tripartite constituents (Ministries of Labour, Employers and Workers Organizations) as well as other key partners in the three target countries. Beyond the usual ILO partners, this project will have a particular focus on the role of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture, agriculture and health extension centres, farmers groups and women groups. At sub-regional level, the project will engage with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The project will reach out to workers (women and men) in the selected plantation sectors in the three countries. These workers will be from the large estates, as well as workers engaged in small holdings and informal enterprises in the lower tiers of the supply chains.

Special focus will be on women workers, as they represent a significant proportion of the workforce in the plantation sectors in South Asia. They face multiple challenges and discriminations in plantations and processing factories. Such discrimination can entail lower wages, lack of access to jobs, lack of access to social dialogue platforms and ill-treatment in business transactions. Women also have the burden of caring out unpaid care work at home. Last but not least, women are particularly vulnerable to poor health care facilities and related maternal health issues.