Fair Trade Indian tea

  • Jonit Bookheim
  • 12 Jul, 2010
Up around the hill station town of Munnar in the southern state of Kerala, we ran into these ladies who pick tea leaves.  For a day’s work they’ll earn less than a dollar.  The tea trade continues to keep the poorest people in the supply chain – the growers and pickers in developing countries – in poverty.  Tea producers today receive only half of what they did 30 years ago for their crop.

Recently, one of the first Fair Trade certified tea plantations turned 15!  The Chamraj tea estate in Tamil Nadu charges a minimum price to ensure production is cost effective and a Fair Trade premium on top of that which funds social projects – such as education, health, environment, energy and pensions.  In 15 years the fair trade premium has brought a new school with computers and laboratories, several school buses, and a doubling of children in schools!  Workers live on the tea estates, but when they retire they often become homeless.  The premium has paid for an enhanced pension that enables former workers to build a new home.  It has also paid for a doctor at the local hospital and for modern medical equipment, which is used by people from miles around.

Unfortunately, conventional tea growers are much worse off.  While Chamraj has thrived, the south Indian tea industry has been suffering.  Tea prices have been so low that many plantations, 16 in Kerala alone, have gone out of business.

The director of Chamraj, Titus Pinto, reports: “The workers lost their jobs.  The workers couldn’t afford to send their children to schools.  So children who were supposed to be at school started working, sometimes at very low salaries.  The workers were deprived of some of their benefits [but] they were not made homeless.  They could stay on the properties but they couldn’t leave because they had no money to go and buy a house somewhere else.  So they were trapped.”

Check out this 3 minute video about the Chamraj fair trade tea plantation.

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